I am on my last flight home from the 2018 USA Weightlifting Junior Nationals. Spokane, Washington is just about the most beautiful spot on earth, but then again I would think the middle of the Sahara was beautiful if my team just crushed it like they did this past weekend. This meet will go down as one of my most memorable as a coach.
However, this article isn’t a big report telling you how great our team is. Most of you already know that, so there is no point. I will quickly say this entire group has ignited a flame in my heart that hasn’t burned in a very long time. Later in this article I will explain why.
This article is mainly about the success we’ve experienced from a few changes to our programming, especially the peaking phase. These changes have produced some major performances, so hopefully they might help all of you as well. Let’s take a look at each.
Absolute Strength vs. Competition Lifts
First we started peaking our absolute strength separately from the competition lifts. In the past we have tried to peak our absolute strength (squats, pushes, pulls, and rows) along with our competition lifts. This worked fine as our team has won for quite some time, but we found our lifters mentally taxed. The last few weeks before a meet, we try to hit big lifts in the snatch and clean and jerk. Trying to max out in a squat or deadlift after banging out maximum snatches and cleans is incredibly physically demanding. It’s simply not the optimal time to be figuring out a maximum squat or pull. Plus if you are having an off day in the competition lifts, trying to set personal records in a squat adds stress on top of stress.
About eight months ago, we expanded our competition preparation to twenty weeks. During the first twelve weeks, I focus on:
• Peaking the squat, clean deadlift, push press, and any other strength movement I deem important to the individual
• Strengthening positions that will help later on with the competition lifts
• Technique in the snatch and clean and jerk
• Using the Conjugate Method to expose any weakness in the lifts (hangs, blocks of varied positions, deficits, pauses, and complexes)
• No Weaknesses bodybuilding, GPP, and work capacity
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Look for the first twelve weeks explained in next week’s article. The final eight weeks focuses on preparing for the competition. The focus becomes:
• Snatch and clean and jerk
• Maintaining the strength with velocity based training
• Meet day specificity
• Situational practices
• Tapering for peak performance on meet day
• Accessory work that causes very little muscle damage
Specificity becomes more and more important the closer to a meet you get. We start becoming robotic in our approach: We warm up the same way and take the same jumps. On max out Friday we take attempts as if we were competing. We have found this makes the meet so much more casual for the athlete. They are used to the jumps, so they find themselves in familiar territory. Of course the specific numbers adjust the closer you get to a meet – hopefully you are hitting new personal records, so then everything is adjusted up.
We maintain our strength levels by focusing more on strength speed (velocities between 0.75 m/s and 1.0 m/s). Here’s a secret for all of you guys and gals: if you move 75% of your maximum at 0.7 m/s in week 14 and then 0.8 m/s in week 18, you just got stronger – especially as it pertains to the explosive sport of Olympic weightlifting. You don’t have to max out in the back squat to get stronger.
We still have at least one day per week for some volume, which normally happens on Saturday. However the total volume even on that day is calculated to maintain the strong legs that have already been built.
We do a lot of meet day specificity, so our athletes are never caught off guard. Waves are great preparation for multiple reasons:
- It is a form of post activation potentiation causing a more efficient movement, especially for the lighter weights.
- In today’s era a lifter might take 3kg more on their second attempt and quickly find themselves 12 attempts out from their next lift. That’s way too long to be sitting around waiting, so we recommend going back to the warm up room, taking the weight down, and waving back up. This technique worked twice for us this past weekend, and each time it appeared to actually aid our lifter’s movement.
- Waves are a great way to build work capacity. You never know the conditions you will face on meet day. We want our athletes prepared for anything.
Other ways we prepare for meet day situations are by:
• Taking less time between sets like EMOMs or 60 seconds rest
• Taking longer time between sets like five minutes
• Taking bigger jumps
All three of these are big helps come meet day. At big meets, things happen. You might be 18 attempts out from hitting the platform – and then all of a sudden everyone jumps up. Now you are nine out and you have to hurry. If you are prepared, it won’t even faze you. Then again, you might take your last warm up thinking you are three attempts out from lifting – and then all of a sudden everyone starts missing. You might find yourself sitting there five minutes. No big deal if you have practiced because you are ready and prepared.
Taking Bigger Jumps
I really like practicing bigger jumps. You might have an athlete who looks rough warming up, so the safe thing is to lower their opener by five kilograms. They might still have the same goal of qualifying for an International Team or qualifying for the American Open, so now you have to take a bigger jump to get to the goal. Once again, that’s not a problem if you are prepared.
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By focusing on velocity for strength work, we are able to shift focus to the competition lifts. We still took the volume up, but our athletes seemed to bounce back stronger than ever after the taper week. Their joints weren’t as destroyed from heavy squats and pulls, so the taper response was much more dramatic. In the past our lifters felt like garbage throughout the entire meet week, and then they bounce back for the competition. This new approach found them feeling fresher much more quickly, which in turn added confidence to their performance. Morgan was hitting personal records in the power snatch and power clean two days before competition.
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We have also been focusing on accessory work that elicits very little muscular damage. The main movements to avoid are movements that require stretching through a full range of motion while under a load. These include RDLs, goodmornings, DB chest flies, and other similar movements. Instead we focus on accessory work like carries, DB lateral raises, plate raises, and reverse hypers. I like to use either isometric contractions or movements that peak the load during the concentric phase and unload during the eccentric phase. I’m all about some metabolic stress/massive pumps, but I don’t want to cause a lot of muscular damage. I want to save their recovery ability for the damage caused from the high volume of the lifts. Plus I don’t want to destroy the hamstrings and low back of my athletes from RDLs to the point they are having trouble maintaining proper positions in the competition lifts. That would be contradictory to the goal of having a meet day focus.
Here’s a sample of a week from the final four week block:
|Day 1||Four Weeks Out|
|Snatch||70% x 3, 80% for 2 x 2, 85% for 2 x 1, 88% for 2 x 1 (work up if no misses and stop at first miss)|
|Clean and Jerk||75% x 2, 80% x 2, 85% x 1, 78% x 2, 83% x 1, 88% x 1, 90% x 1|
|Back Squat with Belt + Bands or Chains||60% Bar Weight + 20% Bands or Chains x 3, 65% Bar Weight + 20% Bands or Chains for 2 x 3, 70% Bar Weight + 20% Bands or Chains x 2, 70% Bar Weight + 20% Bands or Chains x 1|
|Clean Pulls from Blocks||105% for 3 x 3, working up each set|
|Snatch Accessory||Power Snatch: 3RM|
|Jerk from Blocks||75% x 2, 80% x 2, 85% x 2, Max Out|
|Front Squat with Belt||1RM with 7 sec pause (7RPE)|
|Upper Muscular Imbalance Superset|
|1a. Band Triceps Pushdowns||3 x 15 reps|
|1b. Rows (Bands, Cable, KB, etc)||3 x 10 reps|
|1c. Plate Lateral Raises||3 x 10 reps|
|Snatch||75% x 2, 80% x 2, 85% x 1, 78% x 2, 83% x 1, 88% x 1, 90% x 1|
|Clean||70% x 3, 80% for 2 x 2, 85% for 2 x 1, 88% for 2 x 1 (work up if no misses and stop at first miss)|
|High Bar Back Box Squat + Bands or Chains||50% Bar Weight + 20% Bands or Chains for 6 x 3 (60-90 sec between sets, goal bar velocity of 0.8m/s)|
|Warm Up with OH Squat Variations||Work up to 80% for 1 rep paused 5 sec|
|Push Jerk||Work up to 75% for 2 x 3|
|Zercher Carries||3 x 40 yards|
|Prowler Push||4 x 20 yards|
|TRX/Ring Fallouts||3 x 10|
|Snatch Max Effort||Snatch Max Competition Style (3 Attempts)|
|Clean and Jerk Max Effort||Clean and Jerk Max Competition Style (3 Attempts)|
|Snatch High Pulls from Blocks||75% for 4 x 3, working up each set|
|Front Squat with Belt||75% x 4, 80% for 2 x 3, 85% x 2, 88% x 1|
|Band or Cable Lateral Raises||3 x 10|
|Reverse Hypers||3 x 60 sec|
|GHDs||3 x 8|
I want to leave you with a couple of intangibles that made all the difference in the world for our team. This team is the closest I have ever coached. These kids love each other, but it’s more than just that. The families love each other, and the families support one another. Two years ago, I didn’t have that. My friend, Coach Sean Waxman, gave me a real heart to heart about the importance of culture. Since then, I have made several hard decisions that involved some incredibly talented athletes, but the end result is the team I have now. It’s not just our onsite athletes – not even close. It’s our entire team onsite, online, and affiliates. Somehow by God’s grace we have built this special thing that includes a bond I have never experienced before. It’s a group of men and women who want to succeed, and want their teammates to succeed just as badly.
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This extended family we have built is the main reason I love this team so much. This unique bond we experienced this weekend supercedes all the wins, American records, and Team USA slots. It’s that bond that melts my heart. It’s that bond I pray will never be broken. It’s that bond that will keep me on the grind to grow and nurture this amazing group of men and women.
Those are the key factors that helped us kill it this past weekend. Here is a quick rundown of the highlights that came from our team’s incredible performance:
- 15-year-old Ryan Grimsland earned a bronze medal in the clean and jerk in the 69kg class and made Team USA for the first time by earning a spot on the Youth Pan American Team heading to Colombia, South America. He also hit competition PRs in the snatch, clean and jerk, and total (105kg + 135kg = 240kg). Now he’s preparing for the CrossFit Open in hopes of earning a spot at the Games. Busy year!
- 14-year-old Morgan McCullough also earned a spot on the Youth Team, and he will be heading to Colombia as the number one ranked youth lifter in America. Morgan tied his competition PR snatch of 115kg and then hit a lifetime PR clean and jerk of 156kg and lifetime PR total of 271kg.
- Nadeen Pierre, already a two-time Team USA Member, didn’t have the meet of her life – but she nailed both of her openers. She also learned a lot of small details that could have helped her do better. Nadeen is one of our most talented young lifters, and with the help of her incredible coach Vinh Huynh she has no limits.
- CrossFit Games Athlete Nathan Clifton absolutely killed it – going five for six in his first ever national competition and only his third weightlifting competition ever. He hit a competition PR snatch of 93kg, a competition PR clean and jerk of 128kg, and a lifetime PR total of 221kg (an 8kg increase).
- Liz Becker is a Mash Mafia Minnesota OG. When I first started working with Vinh Huynh at his gym (Undisputed Strength and Conditioning in Eagan, MN), Liz was a young girl learning the sport. Now she’s a veteran tearing things up. She hit a PR snatch of 70kg, but she only managed her opener in the clean and jerk. We are going to work on that, and you can expect some big things later this year from Liz.
- Kobe Thomas is a part of our Missouri family along with his momma, Kelly. Kobe also had a rough meet going two out of six. We will get him squared away before the AO1 as he is set to throw down at the Arnold Classic. It really comes down to overhead stability. So he has some presses, overhead carries, and counter movements in his future. I will say this: Kobe is the glue of this young team. His positive approach to life and his overwhelming love for his teammates spread throughout the ranks. He constantly stays in touch with his teammates – so when they come together, it’s as if we all train together everyday. I owe Jacob Hamby for starting this amazing Missouri affiliation with Team Mash. He was the first athlete from out there, and now it’s grown into something really special.
- Derek Bryant is the newest addition to the team, and I can honestly say I am very excited for this young man’s future. He’s only been competing for six months – and lo and behold, he was in it for a bronze medal in the clean and jerk. He actually cleaned the weight to win bronze and barely missed the jerk. He still set a competition PR snatch of 115kg and a lifetime PR clean and jerk of 156kg. It looks like Derek is making the move to the Mash Compound, so get ready for some big things from this young man.
If you were at the meet, you saw the love this team has for each other. I am truly a blessed coach. I appreciate each and every one of my athletes and their families. We are building something really special together. Let’s keep it up.