Coach Dan Bell

Rubber City Weightlifting

I’ve Moved!

To find my new articles, go to the Vulcan Strength Training Systems blog.

I’m now writing for Vulcan and teaching their new Vulcan Weightlifting Technique Seminar. Check ’em out!

Dan

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The Jerk Dip & Drive

The dip & drive is the part of the jerk that elevates the bar and puts it in the right place to complete the lift. Weight magnifies error, and the clean puts more weight on your chest and shoulders than any lift you’ll ever do. Little errors in the dip & drive have big consequences. If the jerk dip & drive are done well, everything that follows is faster, more precise, and has better timing.

The place to start is right at the beginning: the dip. A lot of lifters lose their jerks right here. The cue to “stay on your heels” is nearly universal, but people still screw this up. But how? Besides the usual mistakes–such as allowing the hips to follow the knees forward on the dip–many lifters dip too deeply.

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The dip for the jerk is not a quarter front squat. Two very bad things happen when you drop your hips too far down. First, the deeper your dip, the greater the tendency to have your hips and center of balance travel forward in the foot. This causes the bar to travel forward as well. From here the forward momentum of the bar bar will almost invariably carry forward on the drive. If you watch from the side, the end of the bar traces a “checkmark,” down and forward, then up and forward.

The second detrimental effect of dipping too deeply is a slow turnaround of the center of the bar. A good weightlifting bar is made of high-end spring steel. Good lifters know how to use that spring to their advantage in the jerk. At the bottom of a good dip, the bar bends and “wraps around” the lifter, ready to spring straight and off of the lifter’s shoulders.

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You don’t need this much weight to get some bar bend and “whip.” A great lifter can do it with an empty bar.

This effect can be accentuated by a fast turnaround and aggressive upward deflection of the center of the bar. This fast turnaround is best done with a shallow dip, maybe three or four inches. The deeper the dip, the more acute the knee angle and the less the mechanical advantage at the knee. With weaker mechanical advantage at the knee, it is more difficult to quickly reverse the downward momentum of the bar’s center. That is why I teach a relatively shallow dip that retains more mechanical advantage at the knee, maximizing your explosive leg strength in the drive. Ilyin’s dip (above) is about as deep as I find acceptable. Don’t think of setting yourself up to “throw” the bar in the air. Think of making yourself a solid column that the bar can wrap around.

Sometimes a coach has to be creative. I’ve had some trouble getting the stay-shallow-and-on-your-heels message through to lifters who cannot seem to control the depth of their dip. I combined a couple of different drills to try to address this. The Back Half Push Press seems to work well. Like the Back Half drills I sometimes use in the pull, putting the lifter’s heels on a board and floating the balls of the feet off of the edge takes away the front of the foot. The lifter cannot cheat forward.

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With no front of the foot to use, the lifter automatically stays on the back half of their foot and takes a shallower dip. I keep this drill relatively light by having lifters do sets of three. We use enough weight to teach the right “feel” to the movement, but we are not trying to build strength with it.

If you get the depth and the position of dip right, things can still go wrong. In my opinion, too many lifters do not completely commit to the jerk drive. That means complete commitment to using the body to drive the bar all the way to full extension, and not engaging the hands and arms at all until that point. I tell lifters to think of punching the sternum up past the bar or, dip 3″ and drive up 5″. What does that look like?

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That’s Holley Mangold laying the wood to the jerk that put her in the Olympics. The bar is still behind the balls of her feet, not over them. Her body is completely extended, but the balance is back so foot movement is easy, almost automatic. Everything that follows this kind of jerk drive is more likely to be fast and precise.

It’s a damn shame to waste a PR clean with a bad fist move in the jerk. So stay back, dip shallow, and completely commit to the drive.

Don’t Mistake the Effect for the Cause

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Cause-and-effect seems a simple enough concept to grasp: this happens and makes that happen. It’s amazing to me how often athletes (and too many coaches) in the sport of weightlifting confuse the effect for the cause. What is most obviously wrong about a missed lift is rarely the cause of the miss.

Have you ever pulled a snatch to your eyeballs and your body refused to get under it? Looped the bar around you and missed behind? Deadlifted–or Clarked–the bar? What you assume was a technical failure at one point in the lift probably happened much earlier. What you assumed a lack of guts or commitment to the lift was likely a technical mistake.

For example, take balking at going under the bar. I’ve worked a lot recently with a lifter named Eileen who powered everything. Just could not move under the bar for a full lift. She could pull the bar eyeball high and still not move under it. She’d try to pull down, only to pull her chest and shoulders down and forward and stop, letting the bar fall to the floor in front of her. She was frustrated almost to the point of giving up the sport. She thought it a failure of will, lack of courage or even some esoteric nuance she could not grasp. It was none of these. She simply did not get the bar deep enough over her base in the first pull, then tried to drive up over the balls of her fee in the second pull, leaving the bar out front, where she simply could not do anything with it. A lack of courage or will was not the cause of her misses. It was bar location. Eileen is a realtor, and would tell you now that in lifting as in real estate, it’s location location location.

We worked a few drills to get the bar deeper over her base and finish the lift driving UP with her legs rather than forward with her hips. After a couple days, she was moving under the bar effortlessly because the bar was over her base of balance, where she could easily interact with it.

How about banging the bar away from you? You’re standing up with a snatch that seems to be going well and then you bang it away from you and loop it. Your training partner says, “Don’t swing your hips at the bar!” Was driving your hips at the bar too much the cause of the miss? Maybe not. It may well have been the effect of something that happened earlier. If the bar wasn’t swept close to the front of your body right off of the floor, it will be too far forward, leaving a gap between the front of your body and the bar. The bigger this gap, the more you’ll have to chase the bar with your hips at the top of your pull. You are trying to get your hips on the bar as you should, but again, the bar is too far out front already to do anything useful with it. By the time your hips reach forward to get to the bar you’ve already lost the lift. Looping the bar may look like the cause, but the miss happened as soon as the bar moved vertically off of the floor rather than back over your base.

One more example: A lifter’s hips pop up faster than the shoulders, leaving the bar swinging away from the lifter right off of the floor for a miss. The usual advice is, “Keep your hips down,” the assumption being that the hips coming up too quickly was the cause of the miss. Yes, the hips came up too fast and the bar moved away from the lifter. Were the rising hips the cause of the problem? Again, maybe not. Many lifters, especially newer lifters, do not know how to engage their upper backs for a solid starting position. Their upper backs not being locked in and solid means their upper back gets soft right off the floor, their chest falls, their lats lose engagement and the bar swings away. Like the bar swinging away, the rising hips are an effect, the poor upper back engagement the cause.

It often pays to look away from what appears to have gone wrong to find the real reason. A decent rule of thumb is to look as early in the lift as possible for the cause of the miss. I can usually tell by the time the bar reaches the knees if the lifter has a chance, and often within the first two inches of a lift. If things go wrong right off the floor, they don’t usually get better as the lift progresses.

Having instant access to video tools aids in this process greatly. If things are going wrong, it is no shame to pull out that iPhone or iPad and get some slow motion video to better analyze the lift. Even this takes practice and some experience to be as useful as it can be, but even beginners will spot basic flaws they can’t feel or see full speed. Be careful, though. Don’t assume the first glaring mistake you see is the cause of the problem. A little digging and nuanced thinking goes a long way.

Heel Height and Position

New lifters and CrossFitters are often frustrated by their bottom positions in cleans, squats, and especially the snatch. They see pictures of national or world class weightlifters and wonder why they can’t hit positions like this:

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Through discussions with those familiar with the Chinese program and my own observations, it is clear the Chinese coaches emphasize position before all else. Lu Xiaojun’s bottom position in this snatch is the result of many factors, some under the lifter’s control, some not. In the not column would be structure: femur length relative to torso and lower leg length. Most people, however, do not have a structure ideally suited to weightlifting. Their thighs (femurs) are too long in relation to their lower legs and/or torsos. When sitting in a full squat with proper back position, their torso angle is leaned too far forward from vertical.

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This can place a lot of stress on the shoulders and low back, especially in the snatch. The standard pieces of advice to address this problem work well: increase ankle, knee, and hip mobility and buy weightlifting shoes. The raised heels of weightlifting shoes allow the knees to travel farther forward over the front of the foot, allowing the hips to be closer to the heels, thus bringing the torso angle more towards the vertical. Just doing these things is effective for most, but there are people with very long femurs who still cannot hit ideal or close to ideal positions, even implementing the usual advice to the best of their ability. What to do, then?

Here is a good, standard weightlifting shoe:

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Note the elevated heel, usually between a half to one inch high. That works well for many people, but not all. Even elite level athletes with all of the other qualities a coach would look for in a lifter–speed, agility, flexibility–may not have a structure that allows the positions that would result in maximizing the lifter’s talent.

My lifter Kat Lee, a former Division 1 pole vaulter, has all the qualities a coach could ask for in a weightlifter save one: that long femur thing. Here is her snatch bottom position even with good weightlifting shoes. (Note her back angle)

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The heel in the shoes has helped her get to this position, but still not as good as I’d like. She works ankle and hip mobility almost every day. There is not much more she can get out of that. If a raised heel can get Kat better position, but not great, then why not more heel? That is exactly what you see the Chinese do with their lifters. If you look very closely at the Xiaojun pic above, you’ll see the heels on his Nike’s have been raised what appears to be at least 1/4″ or more. That doesn’t seem like much, but even with his ideal structure, either he or his coaches thought it could be a bit better.

So we took Kat’s shoes to a local cobbler. The result:

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Kat is a more extreme example. We added 1/2″ of hard cobbler’s crepe and a 1/4″ of sheet sole to her heel (tapered down to just behind the ball of the foot) for a total additional heel height of 3/4″. Here is the position she can hit with her modified shoes:

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This is a pretty radical change, but the improvement in her bottom position will be worth it in weightlifting results and injury prevention. It is imperative that when adding any heel height that you work back to your best training weights slowly. Drop down to 80% or less and work back up over two to six weeks, gradually growing accustomed to the new positions and feeling. This will help prevent tendonitis or more traumatic injury from using heavy weight before adjusting to the shoes.

You don’t have to modify your $200 weightlifting shoes just to find out if it will work for you. Simply place wood or metal change plates of different thicknesses under your heels and test out your bottom position for a snatch or front squat. See how it feels and have someone check you out from the side for a more vertical torso angle. If you’re serious about results and injury prevention, it may well be worth the $50 or so it costs to modify your shoes.

Fixing the “CrossFit Pull”

That the explosion of CrossFit popularity has been good for weightlifting cannot be doubted. Through CrossFit, more people have discovered our sport and the joy of moving athletically with a barbell than at any time in even the oldest weightlifting coach’s memory. CrossFitters have also discovered the challenges of doing the Olympic lifts well. It ain’t easy, and after they get by light beginner weights, CrossFitters quickly find that out.

The reason so many CrossFitters are driven to fits of apoplexy by the lifts is that many of them have been taught poorly, but more than that, they have been taught incompletely. The typical CrossFitter bar path is too far to the front to make heavy weights consistently. Left to their own devices to fix the problem, and through no fault of their own, CF athletes spawn all sorts of ugly aberrations of the lifts. The way the lifts have been taught by many CrossFit coaches makes the result inevitable.

Here is a pic at the top of a classical pull as used in the old Soviet system:

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It is central to how CrossFit teaches the Olympic lifts, as you can see in a pic from a CrossFit Weightlifting clinic:

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They are taught to pull the bar high and close. By one of the old Soviet teaching progressions, so far, so good. But here is where things can go awry. There is too much emphasis on getting the bar to go up, not enough on how and when to transition down, and little mention of how to keep the bar over the base of balance–the feet. All too often the result looks like this:

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CrossFitters taught this way typically pull too long, arm pull on extension and drive the hips too far forward. The long pull/arm pull destroys the timing moving under the bar (with no arm action left to accelerate the lifter down) and the hips being driven too far forward pushes the bar away from the front of the body, usually forward of the base of balance.

So what do we do to fix this? I use two drills to get and keep the bar deep over the base of balance and make the hips move down in the right timing, keeping the hips back where they should be. One is the Back Half Drill. In this drill the lifter stands at the edge of a platform and lets the front half of the foot float off of the floor. By taking away the ball of the foot, the athlete can no longer leave the shoulders forward too long; they cannot finish the pull with the entire body vertical over the ball of the foot, with the hips and bar too far forward. They are forced to open the torso in the right timing, get the bar deep over the base, and move under in the right timing.

The second drill, the No Hands/No Feet Drill, is from an old Soviet progression and was employed after the lifter learned the classical high pull. Made to leave the feet in place as they move under the bar, the lifter is forced to emphasize coordinated hip and arm action. Especially if the lifter keeps the heels down, the bar gets deep over the base, the hips cannot travel too far forward, thus moving down at the right time, and the arms are active in pulling the lifter down.

This drill has been used by American coaches and lifters recently, but has been used as a drill to improve speed under the bar. It does do that, but I believe its primary importance is in getting the bar back over the base, keeping it there, and correcting the timing of the movement under the bar. I have used it extensively of late, and it has worked wonders on CrossFitters whose pull was, to be blunt, completely fucked up.

Zygmunt does let his heels come up a little in the video of the drill, but again I must emphasize that the No Hands/No Feet Drill works better if the heels remain glued to the floor throughout the drill. With time, talent, these drills, and some luck, maybe you can look like this one day:

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Bring Up Your Bad Days

Becoming a better weightlifter is not about getting PRs on a regular basis. Anyone who has trained for a while can tell you that the initial rush of PRs quickly starts to fade, and PRs get hard to come by after a while. This frustrating epiphany drives some athletes out of the sport before they’ve really started. When the great days become few and far between, what do you do? You make the bad days better.

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Progress will not always look like this . . .

After that initial rush of PRs, it takes a lot of volume at higher intensities to keep hitting new personal records. But it’s difficult to build that volume if you cannot consistently hit sub-maximal weights. New lifters will have lucky days and hit a PR. They don’t know how they did it, but are often too euphoric over their first 100 kilo snatch to think about it. But when they come in two days later and could not hit 85 kilos if millions of lives depended upon it, WHY will be the only question on their mind for days. The answer is inconsistent technique.

For experienced lifters with good, consistent technique, the great days come from many good days. An experienced lifter who snatches 125 kilos will rarely have a day when they cannot snatch 112. (90%) Having consistent technique means being able to hit weights between 80-95% often, making it much easier to build volume at those weights, and volume at heavy weights is what makes you strong. Being able to consistently hit 90% is especially important. Those are the weights that teach you about heavy weight, and there is a lot to learn.

This is why it is so important to obsessively focus on technique early in your weightlifting career. Like any skill, you need to practice it every day. That doesn’t mean heavy every day. It may mean a lot of days with just the bar, but having that bar in your hands every day matters. When I first start teaching someone the jerk, we work on a footwork drill that has to be so ingrained that the lifter does not think about it. I give new lifters this prescription for the drill: ten sets of ten reps every day for ten straight days. That means 1,000 reps in a week and a half. If they follow through on that (and too few actually do) then they will rarely have to think about their jerk footwork again, if ever.

You have to put in the work to get consistently good technique, and then you have to put in the heavy work often. That heavy work doesn’t mean limit work, but close enough to matter. If you do max-for-the-day training, it means you’ll be able to get up to 90% much more often. If you are on a more classical percentage program, when the program calls for 90-95% weights, you’ll likely hit them, avoiding clumsy, improvised modifications of the program.

A bad day for a new lifter has a lot of attempts and a lot of misses. It might have some good looking lifts and probably lifts so ugly that the coach reflexively turns away and winces. If the lifter keeps coming back and keeps practicing, a year later their bad day consists of a miss or two at 92% when they had planned on 95% that day. Then they move on to the next exercise. The training is much less stressful, and much more productive. With practice, the lifter has made their bad day an essential part of reaching their training goals, not an exercise in “PR or injury” Russian Roulette. They have made their bad days good, and when the good days start to pile up, you don’t have to wait so long for a great day.

 

Bodybuilding in Weightlifting

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(Calm yourselves, Klokophiles)

When the Bulgarian training craze swept the sport of weightlifting some years ago, it became dogma almost overnight that you only need to train six exercises to be a successful weightlifter: snatch, clean & jerk, back squat, front squat, power snatch and power clean. The idea was that constant practice of the competitive lifts makes you strong in the lifts, with squats giving you the leg drive for big weights. The idea that areas of the body other than the legs should be targeted for strength gains got lost in the race to emulate the latest breakout foreign program. But even the vaunted Bulgarians of the eighties and nineties did foundational bodybuilding as juniors. Zlaten Vanev did a lot of curls to protect his elbow after blowing it out on a jerk. There is a lesson there for the rest of us.

The Chinese believed that being Asian they started behind other nations in upper body strength, an essential quality for success in a strength sport, they properly reasoned. So they busted their asses at rows, presses, pullups, handstand pushups and even benching. Judging by the stunningly muscular specimens they put on the podium year after year, it’s paying off.

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Bodybuilding hasn’t hurt the Chinese . . .

A strong upper body is vital in widening the overhead “groove” for the snatch and jerk. The stronger the lifter’s upper body, the more room for error–front to back displacement of the bar from the ideal doesn’t necessarily mean a missed lift. Bodybuilding is especially important for weightlifting women.

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Welcome to Gun City, population: 2

While women’s leg strength doesn’t start out too far behind men’s, they lag far behind in upper body mass and strength. One of the great benefits of the growth of CrossFit has been the acceptance and encouragement of strong upper bodies in women.

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At this past American Open in Dallas, you could almost tell if a female lifter had a CrossFit background by upper body development alone; weightlifting women had paid far less attention to upper body training than did the CrossFit women. I think this is where weightlifting can learn from CrossFit. CrossFit women did not have the sharp technique of women who focused on weightlifting, but they saved a lot of lifts that women with weaker upper bodies would have missed.

In the past I have made the point that too much upper body muscle can push you into the next higher weight class without conveying much benefit to the lifter. I’ve since re-thought that stance. I’m not talking about pro-bodybuilder mass, but enough to protect shoulders and elbows and make imperfect lifts make-able. I also have to agree with Zygmunt Smalcerz, the USAW Olympic Training Center coach, who observed upon his arrival here that American lifters are too fat. He thought many American weightlifters at least one weight class heavier than they should be. Well, maybe not, if that fat lost is replaced by upper body muscle. 

Dimitry Klokov seems to be every American lifter’s wet dream right now, partly, I think, because he’s built the upper body of a Titan. He looks great, yes, but did you ever hear about him injuring a shoulder or an elbow as he fought his way to the podium at Worlds and the Olympics? I don’t think that’s a coincidence. His strong upper body keeps him in the game and helps him win championships. But for the Klokophiles, here’s one more beefcake shot:

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Summon the Duck!

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Jump. Stand up. Jump down. Shrug up. Shrug down. Pull down. Get under. Move your feet. Chest up. Push the floor down. Hips down. Punch. Reach. . . . That is a very short list of the cues I’ve heard from coaches all over the USA. All of them have worked for some lifters and failed for others. Where they seem to have the greatest effect is starting internet pissing matches over semantics, the assumption by too many being that the exactness of the cue has an exactly corresponding effect on an athlete’s technique.

A cue is an analogy. Most coaches find it more effective to describe an analogous movement the new lifter can more easily understand and apply, rather than use a detailed description of the action they are trying to elicit from the athlete. If the analogy gets the athlete performing the lift as the coach envisions it,  the cue “worked.” So the measure of the utility of a particular cue is how effective it is in eliciting the desired movement pattern.

Every athlete has a different athletic, cultural, and intellectual background. This predisposes each athlete to respond in an individual way to the images and feelings presented to them as words–the cue. The way each athlete understands and translates the cue into action varies, sometimes to a surprising degree. What coaches come to understand as the most common reactions to the most common cues are not universal by any means. Sometimes a coach will exhaust all of her favorite cues and still not get the athlete to move the way she would like. This situation is the Genesis of new cues. The creative coach simply makes up a new analogy on the spot. The new cue may seem in no way like the movement the coach desires, but if the athlete can make use of it, can now move the way the coach wants them to move, it is an excellent cue for that lifter.

A friend of mine once watched a coach cuing his lifter at a meet. As the lifter approached the bar, the coach yelled out a couple of cues totally unfamiliar to my friend. “Shoot the knees!” “Whip the shoulders!” My friend thought these cues so hilariously wrong that he shouted a cue of his own. “Summon the Duck!” And near pants-wetting laughter ensued.

I don’t know what the outcome was for the lifter involved, but what if those uncommon cues worked for that lifter? What if the lifter executed a perfect movement and nailed the lift? Then that cue worked, perhaps only for that lifter, but the cue still worked.

Of course good cues are only helpful if a coach knows exactly what they are trying to accomplish technically. I keep in mind an image of what I want from an athlete, a sort of “Platonic Pull/Lift” that is the template to which I teach. If the coach’s template is fuzzy or wrong, all the great cues in the world will not help. While some very good athletes will fall into efficient lifting based on their own innate abilities, that may not have been the result of anything the coach said. Whatever cues you like to use, they are perfect if you get your lifter doing something like this:

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Dan

Thanks to J.P. Nicoletta for the duck story. Still makes me laugh.

As always, thanks to Nat Arem at Hookgrip for letting me use his excellent weightlifting photos.

Good Enough . . . Isn’t

Anyone who knows me or has read anything I’ve written knows how much I focus on technique. I’ve been part of countless internet debates about technique. At some point I will be told that coaches in the USA focus too much on technique and not enough on strength, echoing Louie Simmons and Mark Rippetoe, the best known proponents of this point of view. I disagree. Strongly. This pernicious meme assumes that weightlifting coaches in this country have no idea how to get people strong. The only reasonable response to that is, “Bullshit.” The only people in weightlifting who buy that argument are newbies and keyboard commandos never seen at national meets. U.S. weightlifting coaches are constantly trying to make their lifters as strong as they can get them. Believe me, if Louie Simmons or Mark Rippetoe had some hugely superior method to get weightlifters stronger, coaches like Kyle Pierce, Tim Swords, Glenn Pendlay, John Coffee, Don McCauley, Mark Cannella, Ursula Papandrea and I would be using it.

However, most coaches and lifters who have been in the sport for a while agree that the reason we aren’t as strong as some portion of the foreign lifters we compete against is their use of performance enhancing drugs. These drugs work and give lifters an undeniable strength advantage that is difficult to overcome. The effort to rid the sport of these drugs is ongoing. It will never completely succeed. If we accept that because of PEDs we are not competing on a level playing field when it comes to strength, and despite our hardest work and best efforts we can only get almost as strong as the cheaters, where do we make up the difference? In my view, the obvious place is technique.  Drug users can get away with technique that is adequate to good. Clean lifters who want to beat them cannot. For us to win at the international level, decent technique–good enough–will not do. We have to be the best technicians in the world.

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Yeah, like this.

As it stands now, we are very far from that. At our last National Championships, in Cincinnati, I usually had to wait until the best two or three lifters in each class to see what I consider good technique. In some weight classes not even the winner had decent technique. Outside of a few notable examples, our national class lifters’ technique ranges from flawed to atrocious. We cannot be behind in strength AND technique. We need to relentlessly chase perfect technique. Dismissing technical mastery as a secondary concern is one of the ways we’ve steadily worked our way down the international team rankings. Can you think of a professional athlete who stops working to perfect the technique of their sport to get a competitive edge? If you can, my bet is they are hanging around the bottom of the league on their way out. The real pros are obsessive about perfect technique. To stop at technique that is “good enough” is lazy coaching. To write off constant refinement of skill as an unnecessary distraction from strength work is the argument of amateurs. The amateur approach will not work against professionals any more than a really good weekend-league soccer team will win the world cup. 

I think a big reason technique doesn’t get its due in weightlifting is confusion caused by two widely differing sports using the same implement: a barbell. Powerlifting is not weightlifting. A Venn diagram of the two sports would have the circles barely overlapping at all. In that overlap would be “barbell” and “strength.” The two sports share virtually nothing else. Even the strength component is qualified, in that the summation of qualities called “strength” needed to move a barbell 12″ in a bench press versus the summation of qualities also called “strength” needed to move a barbell the six to eight feet necessary in a clean & jerk is an apples to astronauts comparison. It takes a dull mind indeed to conflate the requirements of the two sports.

Few of our athletes are going to be able to get as strong as the lifters using “restoratives.” When we find them, or lifters close to them, we cannot let that strength be wasted on “good enough” technique. Our coaches have to make highly refined technique a goal from day one and never let up until we are the best in the world at it.

You Can’t Build a Pyramid From the Top Down

Pyramid

Almost everyone agrees that lack of numbers is one of the biggest obstacles to international weightlifting success for USA Weightlifting. There just aren’t very many junior and open age lifters in the sport. With a small pool of athletes from which to draw, there are fewer lifters with elite level talent to develop. The pyramid analogy has been the most common way of framing the many possible solutions offered to address our international failures. In this analogy a large number of athletes are assumed to be the base of the pyramid, given that athlete numbers are what we need. I disagree. It is the local club coaches that make up the base of weightlifting, not the athletes. Weightlifters are the next course up from the base, for the most part the product of the effort and dedication of the coaches that start clubs, recruit athletes and introduce the vast majority of lifters to this obscure sport. If we are looking for a way to grow the sport, to get more lifters into the sport, why not help the people who actually bring almost every new lifter into the sport? Why not encourage the growth of their numbers and their success?

But what do local coaches need to stay in the sport? Money. Connection. Professional development. A little respect.

A coach has to make a real living to free up the time and resources for success. Don McCauley has argued for years that we need to professionalize our coaching ranks to match the professionals in countries like Russia, China, South Korea, and Iran. Can you imagine Ohio State’s football team run by an unpaid amateur who has a real job elsewhere? Who showed up to practice, but had no time for anything else, like recruiting? Nearly all of the coaches in USAW are trying to do something near to that, find and develop national and world class athletes while working as a lawyer, factory worker, Physical Therapist, or carpenter. Making a real living as a coach means time to focus on recruiting athletes. It means time for professional development through continuing education, including visits to successful programs and coaches. It means freeing up resources to secure a training facility and equipment. It means time to build sponsor relationships. Money is time and how that time is spent can make you a professional.

CrossFit has been a huge help from a financial point of view, allowing at least some coaches to supplement their income by teaching weightlifting clinics and classes. And as CrossFit grows, those opportunities grow for coaches. But more can be done. That growth in CrossFit has meant growth in USAW revenues from the Level 1 Courses.  Why don’t we start spreading some of that increased revenue to the coaches in the field who consistently produce at the national, but especially at the international level? This help should not focus only at the top, however. Coaches struggling to establish clubs can benefit greatly from what amounts to a small amount of help. It is expensive to start a club: two platforms, two squat racks and two complete training sets with men’s and women’s bars can cost $4,000 at the low end. Equipment–new or used–or small cash grants to mitigate start-up costs could be a huge help. I don’t know a single coach who has been in the sport more than a few years who hasn’t sunk thousands or tens of thousands of dollars into their clubs with little or no hope of ever seeing that money again. They do it out of love for the sport, but should love hurt so much? USAW can help ease that pain a bit and gain many effective coaches and clubs for not much investment.

One of the first things a local coach realizes is how far he or she is from other weightlifting coaches. Except on meet days, we are pretty much isolated from each other. But even at local meets there is little time for meaningful conversation between coaches, with coaching duties taking up most of their time. Many coaches have more free time to talk weightlifting at national level meets, but it is informal and haphazard. Coaches who don’t have lifters qualified for national level meets miss out on even this, as the expense of traveling to national meets without lifters participating is difficult to justify. The growth of internet forums has allowed informal communication between coaches, but without sitting across the table from each other, face-to-face, internet “communication” often breaks down into pissing matches and petty squabbles. There is also the problem of the water being muddied by newbies and trolls. We need an annual gathering of coaches for networking, comparing notes on training, recruiting, and development, continuing education, mentoring, all things that best happen face-to-face. An annual gathering of coaches for the presentation and sharing of information, for workshops, networking, and just for getting to know each other, is essential not only to the individual development of the coach, but to achieve the aims of the greater organization.

I’ve been told by national office employees more than once, “That information is on the website.” Leaving aside just how difficult it is to find anything on the USAW website, searching for scholarly papers, or articles on training, fundraising, starting a club, etcetera, finding information that way does not connect the coach to other coaches. Face to face conversations take twists and turns that lead you down paths you had not considered, to information you didn’t know you wanted or needed. And the need to talk to someone who has overcome similar problems should not be underestimated.

Face-to-face is the way most of our continuing education should be done as well.  Workshops and presentations should be done at the annual coaches gathering.  While the Level 1 course should still be paid for by those taking it (it is a vital revenue stream for USAW and most who take it are enhancing their resumes, not coaching competitive athletes) the coaches who take the Level 2 course are almost always serious about coaching highly competitive weightlifters. Remember when I spoke about respect? Local coaches should be regarded as the vital assets to the sport that they are, not an additional revenue source. The Level 2 Course should be free and travel around the country to the club coaches who need it. It is an investment in USAW success by developing the local level coaches upon which the entire organization depends.

CrossFit has introduced tens or hundreds of thousands of people to the Olympic lifts. Once people do them and understand them, they love them. They want to do more. But that is useless to USA Weightlifting if there is no one to walk up to these people and say, “Would you like to give the sport of weightlifting a try?” That is the local club coach. We need more of them and we need to help them become the best coaches they can be. They find the lifters. They teach them foundational technique. They get them to the national level and sometimes beyond. More coaches equals more clubs equals more lifters equals the numbers we say we need. If we’re serious about growth, about international success, about medals at Worlds and the Olympics, we need to start building the pyramid at the bottom, with coaches.