Category Archives for "Weightlifting"

Unilateral Work: A Case Study with Ryan Grimsland

I’m going to make a case for unilateral squats.

That may be surprising to many of you who have seen me debating bilateral vs unilateral squatting with Coach Mike Boyle. You’ve either seen me on Twitter, read my article, listened to my podcast, or you’ve seen the debate on Stronger Experts.

But make sure to read this article because I point out the positives of unilateral squatting. Once again, I want to be clear that I never said unilateral squats were bad. My whole point was bilateral squats are effective for improving athletic performance, and the research states they are relatively safe.

Getting Sore or Getting Hurt

When it comes to absolute strength and improving athletic performance, I believe bilateral squats taught correctly give you more bang for your buck when coaching athletes. The increased load is going to produce more hypertrophy, especially in areas that need it – like the legs, hips, and back.

Yes, I said back. I hate it when an athlete performs squats and goodmornings, wakes up sore, and then comes to a coach to say they’ve hurt their back. All good coaches understand this is soreness or muscle damage. It’s a necessary part of the strength and hypertrophy protocol. You break muscles down, and then you rebuild them stronger than ever. That’s the process of getting stronger.

I’ve never seen an athlete hurt their back while back squatting outside of powerlifting. Of course, in powerlifting you are pushing the biology of the back past its tipping point. That’s the name of the game for any sport. When people start squatting 3.5 to 4 times their body weight in the back squat, they are at that tipping point. It’s only a matter of time. However, in athletic performance we are asking the athletes for 2 to 2.5 times their body weight. This is hardly the biological tipping point.

When Back Squats Hurt

However, what happens when an athlete has a preexisting condition that irritates the back? We had a case of this during the last 13-week preparation for Junior Nationals and the Youth World Championships. Ryan Grimsland, a 67kg weightlifter, actually fractured his right hip when he was still competing in CrossFit. That injury causes his back to become irritated every so often.

Ryan’s back flared up about eight weeks ago. At first, we cut one of his squat days and added safety squat bar rear-leg elevated split squats on that day. We didn’t notice any change in leg strength or performance during the first two to three weeks. However, his back kept getting worse. We were in the middle of competition preparation and going quite heavy quite often. After talking to Dr. Lawrence Gray, Ryan’s chiropractor and my long-time chiropractor, we decided to make a few changes:

  1. Turn two of the three squat days into unilateral squat days.
  2. Make the third bilateral squat day optional, allowing the athlete to unilaterally squat instead.
  3. Trim the intensity of the competition lifts – except for Max Out Friday.

The plan worked really well for Junior Nationals. Ryan didn’t perform any bilateral squats during the final three weeks before Junior Nationals. His leg strength didn’t increase, but he maintained his strength really well. He also set personal records in the snatch, clean and jerk, and total – and he increased his lead as the number one youth weightlifter in the country.

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Obviously by now you all know that we killed it, but here’s one more highlight video because I freaking love this team. 1 overall Gold @ryangrimsland (also second to CJ Cummings for best lifter), 2 Silver @mad_lifts_15 and @reagan.henryyyyy , @hannah_dunnjoy PRed everything @nathan_clifton set PRs after a deathly illness, and @meredithalwine hit PR in the Snatch and Total and she was going lift for lift in the most epic battle in American Female history. Side note, we left with two boys on the Junior Pan Am Team and one on the Junior World Team all Youth age. We also left with two girls sitting pretty for Youth Pan Ams. I’ll take it! =================== <link in bio> for: . -Online Video Seminar . – Mash Mafia Online Team . Feats of Strength Online Meet (proceeds benefit 501c3 Mash Weightlifting Team . -Hundreds of Free Articles & Workouts . -Donate to the 501c3 nonprofit team . – 21 Awesome E-Books . -Seminars . -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

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Moving On

Before the Youth World Championships, which were three weeks after Junior Nationals, we added in one front squat day to each week of the final three weeks. At this point, his leg strength was finally starting to decrease. However, Ryan pulled off a competition PR clean and jerk at the Youth World Championships to take the bronze medal. He clean and jerked 148 kilograms at Youth Worlds, but his legs barely stood the weight up. He clean and jerked 150 kilograms in practice about nine weeks ago, and he stood it up with ease. He cleaned 155 kilograms as well during this training cycle about eight weeks out, but there is no way he could clean that weight right now.

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16-year-old @ryangrimsland with a competition PR Clean & Jerk of 147kg/324lb to secure Bronze at the Youth World Championships. Ryan is the third male in American history to medal at the Youth World Championships. =================== <link in bio> for: . -Online Video Seminar . – Mash Mafia Online Team . Feats of Strength Online Meet (proceeds benefit 501c3 Mash Weightlifting Team . -Hundreds of Free Articles & Workouts . -Donate to the 501c3 nonprofit team . – 21 Awesome E-Books . -Seminars . -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

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Unilateral squatting got us through the Youth World Championships. It also helped Ryan eliminate the pain he was experiencing. My theory is that weightlifters spend the majority of their training time squatting and extending our hips with both legs in flexion. Over time, the overuse of hip flexion can put a lot of stress on the low back. The major hip flexor is the psoas, which originates in the bottom of the thoracic spine (T12) and lumbar spine (L1-L5). When the psoas shortens, it starts to put pressure on the low back. I think cutting the load on the spine and pelvis along with the rehabilitative properties of the unilateral squatting helped to strengthen the back and pelvis in a healthier way.



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.

Core Training

We will continue to use unilateral squats at least once per week. We also use the “McGill Big Three” (developed by Dr. Stuart McGill) as a warm up and to encourage stiffening of the muscles which support the low back and hips. Proximal stiffness leads to a safer way to produce distal power and more power as well.

The McGill Big Three are as follows:

  • Bird Dogs
  • Side Planks
  • McGill Curl Up

Dr. Gray at Gray Chiropractic and Sports Associates was a big help with keeping Ryan healthy. Not only did Dr. Gray adjust Ryan’s spine, but also he added a new machine to his care, the AllCore 360 (which trains the core). Now, fancy machines or gadgets never fool me. I am only impressed by results, and that’s exactly what Ryan got – results. I remember the day I was sold on that piece of equipment. Ryan snatched 110 kilograms like a twig one day, just like he had on countless occasions. However, there was something different about the catch phase. It was more stable than I had ever seen it. He went on to snatch 125 kilograms that day for a 5-kilogram personal record. I attribute a big portion of that PR to Ryan’s core protocol at Dr. Gray’s.

Unilateral squats are amazing for keeping athletes healthy. They are also very specific for sport athletes, so I think everyone should use them as a part of their program. However, if you have an athlete with back issues irritated by back squats and front squats, unilateral squats are a great way to continue training without major leg weakness. They will keep you strong for standing weight up. They will strengthen you in other ways that bilateral squatting won’t. If you are a sport athlete like football, soccer, and lacrosse players, you will want to use unilateral squats simply because of specificity. You might not agree with Coach Boyle, but let’s not make the same mistake as him. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water!

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Athletic Performance with Tim Suchomel – The Barbell Life 246

Tim Suchomel lives in both the worlds of academia and of the strength coach.

So he gets to work with great athletes and then research what will help make them even better. Then he gets to teach us all about it.

He joins us on this podcast to share tons of science about safety, velocity, loading, depth jumps, postural work, and more. We also talk about the massive importance of individualization – something that we’re all about here at Mash Elite.


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.


  • Why we absolutely need individualization
  • Can your athlete even clean?
  • What’s even more important than load
  • The benefit of half squats and quarter squats
  • Snatching instead of cleaning to produce maximal speed and power
  • and more…

Bilateral vs. Unilateral Squatting

Several of you who follow me are aware of the debate between Coach Mike Boyle and me.

If you aren’t familiar with the debate, I will give you a bit of the background. Coach Boyle’s take is that all bilateral squatting is both unsafe and ineffective for improving athletic performance. He concludes that the compressive load on the spine is dangerous, and that the spine isn’t designed for compressive forces. He also concludes that unilateral is superior because sports are played unilaterally. Specificity is king, making unilateral the best choice.

My take is that both bilateral squats (front squat and back squat) and unilateral squats (split squats and lunges) are great choices for improving athletic performance and for stabilizing the body to prevent injuries.



This debate has prompted me to take a closer look at the research on this subject. Before I go into my findings and my thoughts on the topic, I want to say that I respect what Coach Boyle has accomplished and contributed to our industry. I have actually paid for two of his seminars, so I am in no way saying that he is a bad coach. That would be a foolish assumption on my part. I am simply disagreeing with him on this one issue. We agree on so many topics like:

  • Sport specific training should be left to the sport coach.
  • Box squatting can be dangerous – especially the bouncing and rolling box squats.
  • Cleans are awesome for power production.

With that being said, let’s take a look at what I found.

Point #1: Bilateral Deficit

Let me first explain what the bilateral deficit really is. If you test out your one-repetition maximum unilaterally and add the right max to the left max, the two combined will normally be about 10% more than your bilateral maximum. There are a lot of theories as to why that is, but the data is really inconclusive.

The two main theories are:

  1. We are wired to be unilateral creatures because we walk around our entire life unilaterally.
  2. When we perform a movement unilaterally, we are able to counterbalance or shift around to find a mechanical advantage. An example is when you perform a preacher curl with one arm; you will naturally contort your body a bit to bang out a couple of more repetitions. Obviously when you perform a movement bilaterally you are in a fixed position making counterbalance much harder.

I am going to go with the cause as just a neurological response from all of the normal day-to-day unilateral movement we all do naturally. Coach Boyle uses this finding to say the body performs better when using unilateral movements. He goes on to say the body shuts down neurologically when performing bilateral movements. However, the research doesn’t agree with him.

The research will show that athletes will narrow the bilateral deficit after performing bilateral movements for a length of time. A lot of studies show athletes eliminating the deficit altogether, and a few show bilateral facilitation (bilateral outperforming the sum of the unilateral movements). Regardless, what does any of this have to do with performance?

So far the only study performed on the bilateral deficit regarding athletic performance showed that athletes with little or no bilateral deficit were able to produce more force against the blocks at the start of a sprint. So once again, this is a great point to use both in your training. Clearly this is the stance taken by most coaches.

The other studies performed on unilateral and bilateral squats in athletic performance showed that both worked about the same regarding actions like sprints, vertical leaps, and broad jumps. Once again, the finding didn’t surprise me. This just showed that either option is fine. However, I still have to lean toward performing both due to the one study showing a smaller bilateral deficit contributing to more force into the blocks in a sprint.

Point #2: Building Back Strength

Then I brought up a point that hasn’t been discussed that often. Coach Boyle said the limiting factor in a lot of squats is the back and not the legs. I would agree that is true with most, but there are a lot of athletes who lose squats due to leg strength. I’d say 70% of people lose big squats due to back strength, which brought me to my point.

The fact that the spinal erectors must overcome a major spinal flexor moment during squats and even more in the front squat means that you are increasing the strength of your back when squatting. The load is at least 40% less in the unilateral squat, so the back is only forced to adapt to this light load. If you are a competitive football player or rugby player, you are going to need that back strength.

Here’s a crazy finding: an average defensive back in the NFL weighing 199 pounds and running a 4.56 40-yard dash is capable of producing 1600 pounds of tackling force. If you are building monsters capable of this kind of force, you better build monster backs capable of withstanding 1600 pounds of force.

Obviously even with trap bar deadlifts, the spinal flexor moment is great – but it is reduced because of the proximity to the center of the body. The farther up the spine that you move a bar will increase the spinal flexor moment. When you perform a front squat, the spinal flexor moment is even bigger because now the bar is in front of the body and ever farther away from an intervertebral joint in the spine. If you want monster athletes, use monster movements.



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.

Specificity and Safety

At the end of the day, specificity will always win. If you are creating athletes who sprint, run, and cut, you should perform unilateral work specific to those movements. However, unlike the popular opinion of the unilateral crowd, not all sport is performed unilaterally. Just look at vertical leap, broad jump, the start of a sprint, athletic stance, batting, a wrestling throw, the start of a swim race, and so many jumps during volleyball. Once again, using both seems to be the answer.

To date there is no research on bilateral deficit as it pertains to risk of injury. Boyle simply references anecdotal data that several of his guys either got hurt bilaterally squatting or bilateral squatting was irritating the backs of his athletes. My data would say something much different. We haven’t noticed that squatting irritates anyone’s back. However, there are two cases on our team where athletes had prior injuries that didn’t allow them to back squat or squat as much. In one case, we simply performed front squats. In the other case, we performed unilateral squats once or twice per week and performed bilateral squatting two to three times.

Before I participated in the debate, I actually called Dr. Stuart McGill. Here were a few of my takeaways. First, here is Dr. McGill’s quote:

“Everything in biology has its tipping point. Below that tipping point everything is anabolic. Everything above that point is catabolic and damaging. This goes for unilateral squatting, bilateral squatting, and pretty much every lift.”

So either movement can be helpful or damaging based on the load and the particular athlete.

Dr. McGill and I agree that bad movement patterns can also get an athlete hurt regardless of load. If you notice a lot of knee valgus or anterior pelvic tilt while performing bilateral squats, you are probably going to get hurt. If you use a wide split stance during a unilateral squat, you are going to mess with the pelvic ring and cause SI joint pain. The takeaway is to find a good coach, learn the movement, and only load functional movement patterns.

All the research points to the back squat being one of the safest movements you can perform. When you are trying to build your absolute strength in those first two to three years, bilateral squats performed heavy are great. Once you reach that threshold of squatting around twice your bodyweight, you might want to consider specificity. At that point, based on these findings, I would focus on one day of velocity based training for the bilateral movements, one day of bilateral based movement for absolute strength, and one day of unilateral movements for hypertrophy and strength.

It might look like this:

Day 1

Unilateral squats – 5×5

Day 2

Velocity based back squat

Day 3

Front squat maximum effort
Unilateral squats – 3 x 8 each leg


I would like to say one more thing in defense of Coach Boyle. He coaches 1,000 athletes per year. He has to design a system to fit his athletes in their culture to get the most results. I think he has done a great job. His athletes are performing, so that’s all that needs to be said. (Of course I believe my athletes are performing even better, but I’m a little biased.)

Feel free to do your own research. I used two really great sources that led me to my research:

  1. “The Whole is Less than the Sum of the Whole” by Greg Nuckols in his online research review MASS
  2. “How to Squat: the Definitive Guide” also by Greg Nuckols

Yes, I am a Greg Nuckols fan mainly because he was one of my interns and powerlifters several years ago. He’s become quite amazing at diving into research and presenting his results in a way that is easily digested by coaches like me. I highly encourage all of you to check him out.

Matt Bergeron Brings Science to the Squat Debate – The Barbell Life 245

Maybe you’ve seen that I was recently in a little Twitter debate on the squat.

Are they safe? Should you only go unilateral?

Well, Matt Bergeron joins us today on the podcast to share the research.

We address many of the myths out there about safety and squatting – and we also talk about the important differences between exercise science and many other forms of science.



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.


  • Do Mash athletes do unilateral squats? (Yes, we do.)
  • How I hurt my back squatting and what I learned from it
  • Why high performance athletes are unsafe
  • When to teach mechanics and when to not worry about it
  • Keeping football players healthy… by lifting heavy?
  • and more…

Case Study: Attempt Selection at Junior Nationals

The Mash Mafia just had an incredible weekend at Junior Nationals. I wanted to take the chance to brag on my team – but also to show how we handled attempt selection. There are a lot of factors to take into consideration, so here’s a glimpse into our thought processes and strategies.

We were at the Junior Nationals in Chicago, which also hosted the last chance qualifier for the Junior Pan American Championships. I rolled into the weekend with six amazing athletes – all of whom are currently on Team USA, have been on Team USA, or have the potential to make Team USA.

That’s pretty wild considering in 2013 I only had two national-caliber athletes. I remember looking around at coaches, such as Dave Spitz and Sean Waxman, and wanting to have incredible athletes like they did. At that point in my life, I was mainly known for producing incredible athletic performance athletes, but I had fallen back in love with the sport of Olympic weightlifting. There was nothing I could do about it, so I decided to dominate. Fast-forward six years and my entire squad is amazing. Any one of them would have been my top athlete in 2013.

We had high hopes going into this meet with such an all-star cast, and they exceeded my expectations. Almost every meet I have at least one athlete who doesn’t quite hit their potential or maybe they bomb out – not this meet, baby! All six hit personal record totals. That’s a record! Of course some of them wanted to do even better, but that’s simply weightlifting.


Most of you reading this know we are an aggressive team. People come to me because they want to be great. No one comes to me saying, “Hey will you make me a 6:6 weightlifter?” We are shooting for world teams, American records, and now world records. We are not going to celebrate after the competition because we went 6:6 unless that 6:6 got us to our goal.

Here’s my thoughts about people bragging about going 6:6. If you open with something you can power snatch and power clean and end with a number 5 kilograms under your best – none of that is cool unless that’s what it took to win the Olympics. Now this is just my opinion, and I am not one of those coaches who believes everyone should think like me. I just want all of you to know what my thought process was.

So how do we choose attempts? It really depends on the athlete. Typically, it looks like this:

  • First Attempt: 93-95%
  • Second Attempt: 96-98%
  • Third Attempt: PR Attempt

For athletes who are good in competition, such as Ryan and Morgan:

  • First Attempt: 5 kilograms under their best
  • Second Attempt: match their training PR
  • Third Attempt: 2-5 kilograms more

Now for the case studies from Junior Nationals!

Meredith Alwine

Choosing attempts is also meet-specific. For example, this time for Meredith Alwine, we were trying to make the Senior Pan American Team. She was competing against Kate Nye and Mattie Rogers. All three girls are ranked in the top eight in the world – meaning all three could potentially medal at the Olympics, yet they’re battling each other in America. (That says a lot for weightlifting in America and how far it has come since Phil Andrews took the reins. We are blessed with an amazing staff all-around at USA Weightlifting.)

Back to the contest! This was not the typical competition. Our only goal was to make the Senior Pan American Team. We had determined that a 239kg total would make Meredith a lock for the 76kg class no matter what happened at this slugfest. We needed 238kg anyway since Kate already had a 237kg total. Bottom line, the goal was first to total 239kg and second to beat the other two girls.

I will explain our thought process for the attempt selection. We know, in normal conditions, we can out-clean and jerk the other two girls, but we have to stay close in the snatch. Right now, Meredith is a full-time student with a really heavy load, so I don’t get to see her lift as much as I would like. She’s capable of over 105kg, but she had only hit 101kg in competition as of the meet. We knew we needed about 102kg to have a chance, so we opened at 98kg and smoked it. We jumped to 102kg to either have two chances at the minimum we needed, or to hopefully smash it and then get 2-3kg more.

She missed her first attempt at 102kg, but she came back and crushed it for a meet PR. She was in the meet.

Mattie hit 105kg and Kate hit a huge 108kg. However, 5kg is definitely doable for Meredith to catch Kate in the clean and jerk. This is where it gets a little crazy. Our number one goal was 239kg, so we had to open at 132kg in the clean and jerk, so we could take a reasonable 5kg jump to 137kg on the second attempt. Did I mention 132kg is only 1kg below her best competition clean and jerk? Remember, we were at the meet to make the Senior Pan American Team, not to go 6:6.

She smashed 132kg, but then things got really crazy. Both Mattie and Kate missed their second attempts in the clean and jerk, so then we were in a holding pattern. They both missed their third attempts, leaving the door open for Meredith to beat both of the girls and to overtake Kate’s 137kg with a 138kg total. Instead of going 137kg, we went for 136kg. Guys, it was so close. She was over halfway up, when she got stuck and went back down. Then she almost bounced out of the hole again. It was heartbreaking for us. Meredith can jerk 145kg, so all she had to do is stand up.

We had a third attempt, but she was spent from that grind of a second attempt. Here are the positives. It was Meredith’s personal record in the snatch and total, and victory was easily within our grasp. We ended up in a tie with Kate, and Mattie winning by 2kg. Meredith once again out-clean and jerked both girls. It was incredibly exciting, and I look forward to battling for many years to come.

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@meredithalwine with a PR Snatch of 102kg, Clean & Jerk of 132kg/290lb, and PR Total of 234kg. We put 136kg on the bar to make the Pan Am Teams and she darn near stood up with it. It’s crazy to have 3 of the top 8 women in the world battling in the same country. I’d say @usa_weightlifting is coming into its own! =================== <link in bio> for: . -Online Video Seminar . – Mash Mafia Online Team . Feats of Strength Online Meet (proceeds benefit 501c3 Mash Weightlifting Team . -Hundreds of Free Articles & Workouts . -Donate to the 501c3 nonprofit team . – 21 Awesome E-Books . -Seminars . -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

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So do you see the attempt selection isn’t as simple as saying I am always going to do xyz?

Hannah Dunn

Let’s look at one of our other boss ladies, Hannah Dunn. Hannah was our youngest athlete at this competition. Hannah is still getting used to the mental component of this crazy sport. Our goal was to hit personal records, move up the youth ranking list, and to have fun. I really wanted to go 6:6 in this case to build confidence, but I also wanted to total 160kg in the 59kg class to move her up the charts to make the Youth Pan American Team later in the year.

Here’s what her attempts looked like:


  • 65kg Opener: 93%
  • 68kg Second Attempt: 97%
  • 70kg Third Attempt: 100%

Clean and Jerk

  • 85kg Opener: 93%
  • 88kg Second Attempt: 97%
  • 90kg Third Attempt: 99%

I was being as conservative as I was going to get in this instance. As soon as she gets confident in what she’s doing, we will slowly get a bit more aggressive in her attempt selection. The funny thing is she missed both of her second attempts, so this is where I pushed a little to test her mental progress. We needed 160kg to get in the game. 155-157kg was simply not going to cut it anymore, so we jumped up on each third attempt to where we needed to be. We didn’t attempt a PR clean and jerk this time because there was no point. We needed 160kg and more importantly we needed her walking away confident. That’s exactly what happened. Now we will go to Youth Nationals with all the confidence to crush it.

I was so proud of this girl. We worked through so much this training cycle to have this breakthrough meet. It was one of my most satisfying moments as a coach. Overcoming challenges makes things exciting. (This is why I love coaching Hunter Elam because there is a different challenge each day…. I am sort of kidding.)

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Ryan Grimsland

Ryan Grimsland, on the other hand, has all the confidence and then some. I am never worried about bombing or doing poorly with this kid because he will simply find a way to make the lift. We were originally going to be conservative at this one since he has Youth Worlds in three weeks, but he called me a few days before the competition with an idea. He wanted to go big at this meet because all of his friends would be there. He knew he could feed off of the energy. He was also going head to head with the top 67kg senior athletes, since they were battling for the Senior Pan Am Team. He thought he would kill it and therefore boost his confidence for Youth Worlds. I told him if his warm ups looked great, then we would go big.

Here’s what his attempts looked like:


  • First Attempt 120kg: 96%
  • Second Attempt 125kg: 100%
  • Third Attempt 130kg: 104%

Clean and Jerk

  • First Attempt 145kg: 97%
  • Second Attempt 152kg: 101%
  • Third Attempt 155kg: 103%

He smoked his first two snatches, and darn near got the 130kg. I have no doubts he will crush it at Worlds. On his opener clean and jerk, he totaled 270kg, which was a 17kg PR total. But then we jumped big. We wanted 286kg to have a small chance of making the Senior Pan Am Team. He missed his second and third attempts – but now we know a 275kg total is easily within his reach, which is predicted to medal at Youth Worlds. However, I think we can easily total 280kg with a slightly more conservative approach – hitting a 128kg snatch and a 152kg clean and jerk. This meet left us with several options. It also landed Ryan as the third best junior, while still a youth athlete, right behind CJ Cummings and Harrison Maurus.

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Obviously by now you all know that we killed it, but here’s one more highlight video because I freaking love this team. 1 overall Gold @ryangrimsland (also second to CJ Cummings for best lifter), 2 Silver @mad_lifts_15 and @reagan.henryyyyy , @hannah_dunnjoy PRed everything @nathan_clifton set PRs after a deathly illness, and @meredithalwine hit PR in the Snatch and Total and she was going lift for lift in the most epic battle in American Female history. Side note, we left with two boys on the Junior Pan Am Team and one on the Junior World Team all Youth age. We also left with two girls sitting pretty for Youth Pan Ams. I’ll take it! =================== <link in bio> for: . -Online Video Seminar . – Mash Mafia Online Team . Feats of Strength Online Meet (proceeds benefit 501c3 Mash Weightlifting Team . -Hundreds of Free Articles & Workouts . -Donate to the 501c3 nonprofit team . – 21 Awesome E-Books . -Seminars . -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

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Fantastic day for Ryan!

Reagan Henry

Reagan Henry crushed it with the breakout meet of the weekend. Reagan is a CrossFit Games teenage athlete who has made the switch to weightlifting. I knew she could be a Team USA athlete, and she proved it this weekend. One thing I have to mention is she bombed out at the American Open, and she was totally panicking two weeks prior to the meet because her snatch was inconsistent. It forced us to be a bit conservative, so here’s what her attempts looked like:


  • First Attempt 70kg: 91%
  • Second Attempt 74kg: 96%
  • Third Attempt 77kg: 100%

Clean and Jerk

  • First Attempt 90kg: 94%
  • Second Attempt 93kg: 97%
  • Third Attempt 100kg: 104%

Since she was struggling mentally with snatches, we were forced to open up a bit more conservatively. The goal was to get near or to tie her training personal record on her third attempt. She went 3:3 in the snatch, equaling her best in training. Then we turned her a little loose on the clean and jerk. We only went up to 93kg on the second because we were battling another young lady.

After we solidified her silver medal, we jumped big to 100kg. We knew she could clean it with a PR of 110kg, but her best jerk was only 96kg coming into this meet. We had hammered her jerk technique during this training cycle, so we knew we had a chance. She went out there and stuck it for a massive meet PR of 177kg. Right now she is sitting on the Youth Pan American Team pretty solidly, and she darn near made the Junior Squad in her first ever Junior Nationals. Now the sky is the limit for this girl. She’s going to be very hard to beat from here on out.

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16-year-old @reagan.henryyyyy crushed it going 6:6! Ended with this PR Snatch of 77kg/170lb, PR Clean & Jerk of 100kg/220lb, and PR Total of 177kg! Definitely sitting on several Team USA’s, so now time to let the dust settle and make some decisions. Exciting! =================== <link in bio> for: . -Online Video Seminar . – Mash Mafia Online Team . Feats of Strength Online Meet (proceeds benefit 501c3 Mash Weightlifting Team . -Hundreds of Free Articles & Workouts . -Donate to the 501c3 nonprofit team . – 21 Awesome E-Books . -Seminars . -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

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Nathan Clifton

If you want to hear a story about overcoming adversity, listen to Nathan Clifton’s story. First, I want you guys to know Nathan is also a CrossFit Games teenage athlete and he placed fourth in the world last year. The year before, he didn’t make it at all. Yes, he went from staying at home and watching to fourth in the world in one year. I am telling you guys this to let you know the tenacity of this young man.

A few months ago, Nathan was well on his way to making a Junior Team USA Squad. Then about three weeks before the Junior Nationals, he had a full-blown gall bladder attack lasting nine days. He was uncertain he would even be able to go. Now here we have a totally different deal.

He decided to compete for the experience, but he was obviously not going to be himself. The first thing I did was look at his declared total. He declared 240kg, which meant we had to open with numbers totaling at least 220kg because of the 20kg rule. (You have to open up within 20kg of your declared total.) We made the following attempts:


  • First Attempt 98kg: 93%
  • Second Attempt 102kg; 97% missed
  • Third Attempt 102kg: 97% missed

Clean and Jerk

  • First Attempt 128kg: 88%
  • Second Attempt 135kg: 93%
  • Third Attempt 140kg: 97% missed

As you can see, we were way more conservative in the clean and jerk. Getting sick like Nathan did takes away the leg strength. However, at the end of the day he was around 93% of his best, and that’s about as good a result as we could have hoped for. I was expecting over a 260kg total, but that was before his body attacked itself. I am very proud of his performance. The funny thing is he hit a 1kg total PR, and we all know he’s capable of so much more. By the end of the year, I am confident Nathan will be right where he should be.

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18-year-old @nathan_clifton battles through some major adversity to hit this 98kg/216lb Snatch and 135kg/297lb Clean & Jerk for a 1kg PR Total of 233kg. Two weeks out he experienced a massive Gall Bladder attack that left him deathly sick for 10 days. However he battled through it, and put together a nice total. He’s capable of a 250+ total, but we will have to wait. Proud of you Nathan! =================== <link in bio> for: . -Online Video Seminar . – Mash Mafia Online Team . Feats of Strength Online Meet (proceeds benefit 501c3 Mash Weightlifting Team . -Hundreds of Free Articles & Workouts . -Donate to the 501c3 nonprofit team . – 21 Awesome E-Books . -Seminars . -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

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Morgan McCullough

I saved the big boy for last, 15-year-old Morgan McCullough. Our goal here was to hit over 300kg total for a PR number one, and number two to total between 317kg and 320kg to lock a spot on the Junior World or Junior Pan Am Team. Morgan is just like Ryan. If he is confident, I am confident. I wanted to open at a 130kg snatch and a 175kg clean and jerk, but I needed him to feel confident. His warm ups were money, so here’s what we did:


  • First Attempt 130kg: 96%
  • Second Attempt 135kg: 100%
  • Third Attempt 137kg: 101% miss

Clean and Jerk

  • First Attempt 175kg
  • Second Attempt 181kg miss
  • Third Attempt 182kg miss

Morgan is a game-day snatcher because he has been struggling for the last few weeks. Then he starts warming up, and he turns into a superhero. It was a beautiful thing. His 135kg snatch and his 175kg clean and jerk led to a 15kg PR total. He was definitely capable of more in the clean and jerk. But with a few tweaks, I am confident in 140kg and 185kg during Worlds in three weeks. Like Ryan, we are looking to medal and preferably to take gold. Here’s the beautiful thing – he made the Junior Pan Am Team going to Cuba at 15-years-old. This kid has endless potential.

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15-year-old @mad_lifts_15 with a competition PR Snatch 135kg/297lb, competition PR Clean & Jerk 175kg/385lb, and a massive competition PR Total of 310kg! He earned a spot on the Junior Pan Am Team with this performance, so we are pumped to see what this year brings for this young man. =================== <link in bio> for: . -Online Video Seminar . – Mash Mafia Online Team . Feats of Strength Online Meet (proceeds benefit 501c3 Mash Weightlifting Team . -Hundreds of Free Articles & Workouts . -Donate to the 501c3 nonprofit team . – 21 Awesome E-Books . -Seminars . -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

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Well that’s the story. I just told you about six different athletes with six different strategies. I hope you can learn from these case studies.

We are going to have a lot of these updates this year. As of right now, we have two youth going to Youth Worlds, we have two juniors going to Junior Pan Ams, one junior going to Junior Worlds, and one senior go to Senior Pan Ams. We have several qualified for the various bronze and silver international meets. Right now we have four looking to go to Youth Pan Ams later in the year, and three more Seniors looking to go to Senior Worlds. I am excited for 2019. I hope this article helped you all a little bit.

The Great Debate: Triple Joint Extension or Catapult?

Today two of my mentors were arguing again about technique in weightlifting.

Here’s the funny part – they agree on almost everything, such as:

  • start position – give or take a bit here or there.
  • keeping the chest up during the drive off of the floor.
  • keeping long arms with elbows out during the pull.
  • sweeping the bar back during the pull.
  • driving with the legs with the whole foot through the floor for as long as possible.
  • staying over the bar for as long as possible.

Here’s what they disagree on:

  • triple joint extension (ankle, knees, and hips) being a thoughtful process
  • vs.

  • focusing on a quick turnaround at the top – with no thought to triple joint extension (even though it probably will happen)


These coaches would tell you their disagreement comes from more than this, but I have spoken with them both many times – and I know the truth. I have taken advice from both of them, and I continue to do so. They would claim their take on technique is absolutely right, so they believe their way of teaching is an absolute. This is funny really, and I will tell you why.

They have both produced incredible athletes. They have both produced athletes for Team USA at the highest of levels. They have both produced multiple international athletes. So can one really say they are better than the other? Can one really claim their technique is an absolute?

I’ve been referred to as a catapult coach several times. I assume that’s because I’ve coached with Don McCauley and I coached Jon North. I don’t consider myself a catapult coach or a triple extension coach. I am a weightlifting coach. I will teach my athlete anything I have to for them to make the lift.

I’ve coached athletes to spend less time at the top because their delay was costing them precious seconds to get under the bar. I’ve coached athletes to jump at the top to teach them an aggressive finish and to accelerate through the middle. I’m not married to a technique. There are only a few absolutes in my book:

  • Stay over the bar.
  • Drive with the legs, keeping the shoulders higher than the hips.
  • Keep the bar close to the body with a sweeping motion.
  • Hips shouldn’t travel past vertical when meeting the bar.
  • The bar should continue to accelerate throughout the pull.
  • An athlete should continue to pull under the bar until they meet the bar.
  • Meet the bar stable.

There might be a few more, but not many.

If an athlete has won the Olympics and/or broken a world record with a certain technique, then that technique is a possibility. Yuri Vardanyan barely extended at all when he clean and jerked or snatched. Then there are athletes, such as Dmitry Klokov, who seem to have massive finishes at the top of the pull. My point is, who cares as long as the lifter is progressing toward their goals?

I will probably make both of these amazing coaches mad at me, and that is certainly not the point to this article. My point is maybe they could learn from each other if they would just chill out. I believe there is a time and place for both of their approaches.

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I have a young girl right now who I am coaching. She’s going to be an amazing weightlifter. I look for her to earn a trip with Team USA this year. Her problem from the beginning has been spending too much time at the top.

She demonstrates massive amounts of plantar flexion and shrugs at the traps with all she has. This caused her to be slow under. Her transition from the second pull to the third pull was delayed. We’ve really focused on extending at the hips and then immediately ripping under the bar. She doesn’t do any typical snatch or clean pulls. We only do snatch and clean deadlifts. We’ve noticed a massive improvement, which has led to a great deal of personal records during this training block.

There’s another athlete who was having trouble accelerating through the middle. He is very fast under the bar, but he wasn’t creating a lot of propulsion. Therefore, the bar height simply wasn’t there for him to progress. We performed multiple sessions of snatch and clean pulls, programmed in two to three sessions of box jumps per week, and focused on a jump motion. That’s a big taboo for some, but in this case it worked. This athlete simply needed to get better through the middle of the lift. This formula was perfect for him.

I don’t have a problem with someone having a system or a way of teaching. I have progressions for the lifts I teach, but I am not married to any of them – except the absolutes I mentioned earlier. Every athlete is taught the same:

  • Feet start at hip width and jump to shoulder width.
  • Arms should be long and elbows turned out.
  • The setup starts with the back neutral, knees slightly in front of the elbows, and weight in the middle of the foot.
  • The pull begins by pushing your feet through the floor, immediately squeezing the bar in with your lats, and moving the knees out of the way by pushing them out and back. (Another absolute is to never go around the knees.)
  • Once the bar is slightly below the knees, the shoulders and hips rise at the same time until the second pull begins.
  • Stay over the bar for as long as possible.
  • The bar meets the upper thighs in the clean, and in the crease of the hip in the snatch.
  • Once the hips extend, shoulders finish up and slightly back, and the pull under begins the minute the hips extend.

These are just a few of my technical cues. There are so many more, but you get the point. The fact is I am not solely committed to any one of them. I have just found most athletes respond well to these cues in my experience. These are just where I start. The response by the athlete dictates where we end up.


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I just encourage all of you up-and-coming coaches to avoid being dogmatic – it will paralyze you. I guess the bright side is I have learned massive amounts from each of these coaches, so I benefit from each. At the end of the day I benefit because I am not fixed completely on any one particular technique. I stick to basic physics and biomechanics. I also watch other great lifters from around the country and world. I break down their technique to see if I can pick up something new. I believe you will all benefit from this approach.

I want to be clear on one more thing. I love both of these coaches like family. I would do anything for either of them, and they know it. Personally, I believe it’s like most wars that last several years – neither side remembers why they are fighting. They just know they’re not supposed to agree.