Changes That Equal Success: Absolute Strength, Culture, and Philosophy

After the National Championships last year, I committed to going over every inch of our program to achieve perfection. And that’s exactly what I did. I looked at:

  • Culture
  • Taper Process
  • Attempt Selection
  • Sports Psych
  • Accessory Work
  • Atmosphere
  • Sports Med
  • Team Philosophy
  • Absolute Strength


We made changes to everything. Hopefully most of you reading this know that we have gone on a tear since then. We placed three athletes on the USA Weightlifting Senior World Team. We just qualified two athletes for the Youth Pan Am Team including the number one ranked Youth in America (who’s only 14-years-old by the way). I’d say that all of this makes us the hottest team in America.

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Last week we talked about the changes to the taper process that yielded massive PRs when it counts. Last year, Jordan Cantrell and Nathan Damron both peaked during their most important meets of the year. That’s when it matters ladies and gentlemen. Who cares about your training PRs?

There are three items that I want to discuss more in detail this week:

  • Culture
  • Team Philosophy
  • Absolute Strength Block


Coach Sean Waxman was a big help in developing my team’s culture. In 2016 and the first part of 2017 we had a great team, but there was also a lot of internal turmoil. The specifics aren’t important, but the truth was that we needed to make some personnel changes. I am not saying that those people were necessarily bad people. They just didn’t fit the culture. There was arguing, and it simply made the atmosphere of the gym less than optimal. Something had to be done, so I made some of the hardest decisions of my life.

This led to the best gym atmosphere in my life as a coach. The athletes hang out, get along, and sincerely love each other. It’s a family!  That’s what I want. However, two years ago, I thought I would never have it. Coach Waxman helped me make those hard changes that led to my ideal atmosphere. Now everyone wants the rest of the team to succeed. We each want nothing but the best for all of the athletes. At meets I couldn’t separate the team if I wanted to. They eat together, train together, and compete together. It makes the overall experience for the athletes one that will be burnt into their memories forever. This type of gym atmosphere is conducive to weekly personal records and the destruction of any preconceived ceilings.


Our team philosophy has also changed. Before Nationals in 2017, one of our top goals each meet was to win the Team Title. After looking deeper into our team philosophies, I decided that trying to win Team Titles was adding to the stressors of competition. I decided that these stressors were actually deterring us from our number one goal, which is to get people on Team USA and compete with the best in the world. I started this club with the goal of forming a team that would recruit and prepare athletes to go head to head against the best in the world. I was tired of people talking about Russian and Bulgaria. I wanted and still want to show the world that America can climb to the top of the weightlifting world.

Anything that sways me from this main goal, is simply something that I can’t afford. Team competitions adds the stress of each athlete scoring as high as possible. The team competition makes it really hard to be aggressive with attempt selection. If an athlete bombs out, especially a heavy hitter, it all but destroys a chance of winning. That adds a lot of stress to openers. It’s simply not worth it to me. If an athlete needs to open aggressively to make an international team, then I want to open them aggressively.

Ever since we stopped signing up for team competitions, we’ve had zero bomb outs and more personal record totals than all the previous years combined. Now I take the personal needs only into consideration when determining meet strategy and attempt selection. It has made the entire experience way more fun and relaxing. We are just back to having fun and hitting big lifts.

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We also changed the absolute strength cycle of our programming. We used to peak our strength movements like squats and pulls at the same time as our competition lifts. This method worked well, but it wasn’t totally optimal. For some athletes, this type of peaking simply wasn’t getting the job done. There were two reasons why this method wasn’t working:

  1. Maxing out on a back squat or deadlift can zap the CNS not to mention the damage on the joints.
  2. It’s mentally taxing trying to max out in the snatch, clean & jerk, and the back squat at the same time. It’s hard to bring the juice for all of these lifts.

We lengthened our competition preparation to twenty weeks as opposed to twelve weeks. The extra time allowed us to focus on absolute strength for the first twelve weeks:  squats, pulls, rows, and presses. We also use this time to attack any muscular weakness or imbalances that might be present in our athletes. We use the first four-week block for an accumulation phase to prepare the body for the hard weeks to come. The second four-week block is designed to maximize hypertrophy. The easiest way to make a muscle stronger is to make it bigger. Finally, we peak our main strength movements during the third four-week block. From that point on the focus moves to the competition lifts and maintaining the absolute strength that we yield during the first twelve weeks.

We still perform the competition lifts during the first twelve weeks. However, the main focus is technique, positions, timing, and movement. We still choose certain variations to go hard with on Fridays, but the heavy and high intensity Snatches and Clean & Jerks are saved for later. Here’s what the final week of the first twelve weeks looks like:

Day 1 Week 12
Clean Paused 2″ off Floor for 2 sec & Jerk 75% 1×2, 77% 1×2, 80% 1×2, 83% 1×2, 85% 1×1  (rest 60-90 sec between sets)
Front Squat with Belt 1RM, then -20% 2×3
Clean Pulls with 50lb of Chains off 4″ Blocks 3×3 work up heavy starting at 95% total weight
Glute Ham Raises 3×8
Day 2
Warm Up with OH Squat Variations Heaving Snatch Balance Doubles  work up to 50% of Snatch
Snatch Paused 2″ off Floor 75% 1×2, 77% 1×2, 80% 1×2, 83% 1×2, 85% 1×1  (rest 60-90 sec between sets)
Front Squat with Belt 1RM paused 5 seconds  7RPE
Core Muscular Imbalance 1
1a. OH Carries Axle 3 x 40 yd
Day 3
Back Squats 45% Bar Weight + 25% Bands or Chains  5×3  with 60 sec rest >.75m/s
Strict Presses 1RM, then -20% AMRAP
Clean Grip Deadlift 1RM
Upper Muscular Imbalance 2
1a. Dip 3×10
1b. KB Bentover Rows 3×10
Day 4
OH Squat Variation Max Effort 75% of Snatch for 3×3 on Snatch Balance
 Farmers Walk 4×40 yd
Sled Rope Drags 3 x 30 yds
Sled Bear Crawls 3 x 30 yds
Med Ball Side to Side Abs 15 touches per side
Day 5
Snatch Complex 2 Pulls+Snatch  Max
Clean & Jerk Complex Clean+2 Front Squats +Jerk  Max
Hang Snatch High Pulls 60% 3×5
Day 6
Back Squat with Belt Max Back Squat
Push Press 1RM, then -20% for 3+
Kang Squats 3 x 5 just progress about 2-5k from last week


You can see from this example that we max out in the front squat, back squat, deadlift, strict press, and push press. You will also see the accessory work and muscular imbalance (no weaknesses) work. At the end of those twelve weeks we have yielded as much strength as possible, we sharpened our skills and positions in the competition lifts, and we are now prepared to take that strength and turn it into snatch and clean & jerk PRs. Hopefully all of you can use these suggestions to improve your own situations. Whether you use them or not, I suggest that you take your club and analyze every square inch of it. If it’s not perfect, make some changes. These adjustments paid off big time for Team Mash Mafia.

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