Coach Dan Bell

Rubber City Weightlifting

Month: June, 2013

Let’s Meet at the Bar

No, not this bar . . .


This one:


I was reading a recent post on the Pendlay Forum about whether to meet power cleans high or low, which led to a back-and-forth on whether to teach beginners powers first or begin with full lifts. There was discussion of whether beginners should even do power versions of the lifts. I think the original premise is flawed. I don’t teach new lifters to do full lifts or powers; I teach them to pull to the bar. The weight on the bar will determine if it’s a power or full lift.

I teach lifters to meet the bar where it is, not where they want it to be or where they prefer to go or the position they hit out of habit. I’ve talked before about the arms being active throughout the lift, sweeping the bar straight-armed all the way to the top of the pull and then actively pulling against the bar as the feet leave the platform. In this moment–feet off the platform and arms pulling hard against the bar–the lifter must pull their body to the bar. In the snatch, the lifter pulls the fists all the way to the lockout position, in the clean, the lifter pulls the bar right to the collar bone. Properly timed off of the first pull, the combined actions of the arms and feet will have the lifter meeting the bar at or near the apex of its upward trajectory.


If the bar is light, say 70% or 80%, the lifter will meet the bar and tighten against it for a power. If it is heavy–90% or more–they will meet it lower, in a full version of the lift.

I think this is the essence of the band drill that Glenn Pendlay talked me into trying with my lifters. Yes, it does teach lifters to pull into the hole, but I like the way it forces them to pull quickly to the bar and tighten against it. In the snatch version, the only way to do that against the downward “suck” of the bands is to pull and punch against the bar in one fluid and continuous motion. The drill makes you pull to the bar. If you just jump to the bottom to “catch” the bar, it crashes on you.

So don’t think of intentionally powering the weight or doing a full lift, think of pulling to the bar. If you want to do powers, put less weight on the bar. If you want to do full lifts, put more weight on the bar. If you want to grab a beer after the workout, yeah, we can go to that other bar.







No coach is good at everything. We all have more to learn. For a decent coach to become good, and a good coach to become great, you have to set aside your ego and be willing to learn continuously, from whoever has something valuable to teach. Especially since starting up my own club again (Rubber City Weightlifting, Akron, Ohio) I’ve been trying to learn from a couple of proven coaches I’ve come to trust: Don McCauley and Glenn Pendlay. So after giving Don and Glenn fair warning, I loaded my car with lifters (Jon Dawson, national qualifier at 85kg and Phil Martter, future +105 hiding in a heavy 94’s body) and headed off Friday morning to Savannah to visit Don.


Coach Don McCauley manages to look skeptical and happy at the same time.

We met Don at CrossFit Savannah, where he coaches with his wife Suzanne, and followed Don to their house. (I should note that following Don’s driving is a difficult task under any circumstances, but doing it through Savannah is hazardous to your health. We passed at least three accidents on the way and just dodged a couple ourselves) Don and his wife Suzanne could not have been better hosts. We each had our own beds–and our own cat–waiting for us. We spent the evening knocking back a couple good microbrews and bullshitting about weightlifting. Only dinner with Hemingway could have beaten that.

Saturday Don and I did a mini-clinic on technique at CF Savannah while Jon and Phil trained. We only had three people show for the clinic, but they were good athletes and learned fast. I think several PRs were hit, which you’d expect with a coach to athlete ratio of 2:3. They left happy, anyway.

Don spent some time helping Jon and Phil through their second workout of the day while I sat back and watched. Don is a huge proponent of “touch cues.” I’m a fairly articulate guy and use mostly verbal cues. I get frustrated when they don’t work well or at all, and I wanted to see how and where Don implemented his tactile cues.

After another evening of good beer and more weightlifting talk, we once again followed Don on the four hour drive up to Muscle Driver USA, just outside Charlotte, in Fort Mill, South Carolina. We got there in time for the morning workout. Glenn was kind enough to open up a platform for Jon and Phil to train alongside the rest of the MDUSA crew. The morning training session is not normally heavy, and usually serves as more of a setup of the afternoon workout. I had the guys snatch and Don helped out Jon with one of his more unconventional cues. It seemed to work as Jon’s pull was markedly improved and he finally felt like he got all of his “legs into the lift.”


“The Beard”  Coach Glenn Pendlay

Glenn’s coaching style is the polar opposite of Don’s. Don is constantly patrolling, going from platform to platform watching, making corrections where he sees the need, or spending a while with a lifter who has particular trouble that day. Glenn sits back and watches. He wants to see if the problem he sees is an anomaly or a consistent problem. For the most part Glenn likes to fix technique problems within the context of the program, with complexes that address the problem, fixing it more with focused reps than with many verbal or tactile cues. The combination of Glenn and Don’s styles seems to be sitting well with the lifters at MDUSA, as PRs and huge lifts are as common as dirt at the MDUSA gym.

Between the atmosphere and Don’s help with his jerk, Jon hit a 5kg PR 155kg in the Clean & Jerk in the afternoon workout. I missed it, of course, and got no end of shit for that from Don, Glenn, Phil and Jon.

At the end of the afternoon session we all went back to Glenn’s house. We were greeted by Glenn’s giant-headed rescue pit bull, whose tongue, I can confirm from up close experience, is as wide as a human face. Glenn fed all of us, and food at his house is every bit as good as it looks in his blog posts.

After dinner and more bullshitting about weightlifting (is there a theme here?) Travis Cooper, Glenn’s tech guy and Pan Am Team member, set us up for a podcast, where I took some more shit for missing Jon’s PR C&J.

All of us Rubber City guys had a blast, truly a great road trip, but it was much more than fun. I not only learn from trips like this, but I hope I bring something as well. Don pointed out early on that Jon had the bar too close to his shins in his starting position. I pointed out in the clinic that Don hadn’t shown one of the attendees how to tighten his upper back. I spend so much time with beginners that I skip over some important nuances of the lifts because beginners can’t use them yet. Don spends so much time with advanced lifters that he sometimes skips over small basics that he unconsciously assumes the lifter knows and does. We both developed “holes” in our coaching eyes out of habit. Trips like this serve as reminders and refreshers for everyone. This kind of informal coaching summit/visit/seminar is an essential part of the mentoring and developmental process for new coaches, too. It has been my experience that most high level coaches are very approachable and would love nothing more than to share what they know with other coaches. As a younger or newer coach, to not take advantage of that impulse and soak up all you can is to hold yourself back, but worse, to hold your lifters back.


The Jerk is F@#%ing Hard!

Clean? Tough. Snatch? Tougher, for sure. But the jerk? Now we are now talking about the most difficult feat in weightlifting. I know, I know, snatches drive a lot of lifters, especially newer lifters, batty. But the split jerk is as technically demanding as the snatch, maybe more so, and comes after a heavy-ass clean. It requires as much attention as the snatch.

Getting a good rack position and then learning to dip and drive properly is hard enough. (Check the last couple posts below) Now comes the mind-fuck: arms punch up, at the same time punching the hips down, and the feet move in opposite directions, perpendicular to the movement of the body. How do we coordinate all that? One piece at a time.

Let’s start with the feet. First, we do not jump into a split and land both feet at the same time. I know some coaches teach it that way. I do not, and for a very good reason: most of the best jerkers in the world land their back foot first. I consider that vital to the way I teach the jerk. So start by drawing a tic-tac-toe grid on the floor in chalk. Make a mark at your heel, the tip of your toe and the inside edge of your foot. Draw lines through those marks and you’ll end up with this:


The squiggle in the middle is the “no-go” zone. I tell clinic attendees it’s a rattlesnake, so don’t step on it. That keeps the lifter from “tight-roping” the split.

Now you’re going to move your back foot first, lightly dragging your toe or ball of the foot–yes, keeping it in contact with the floor. You’ll land the ball of your foot just behind the heel line, dropping your hips as straight down as you can manage while doing so, landing the foot with a tight ankle, heel off the floor. Then step off from that anchored back foot and punch the front foot heel in front of the toe line. The whole thing should look like this:

Jerk Footwork Drill

That’s Kat Lee doing the drill. She’s doing pretty well for someone who’s been lifting for about three months. I recommend that you do this drill for ten reps, ten times per day, wherever you happen to be. (I’ve done it while standing in line at the grocery store. Check for onlookers before proceeding to kill time like this. Someone may call in a mental health professional) Do this for ten days in a row and this foot movement will start to become natural. That’s important, because you don’t want to be thinking about it when you move.

Now, what to do with the arms. Remember that good rack position we looked at last time, with the elbows down but still slightly forward of the wrists:


We want the elbows in front of the wrists to encourage punching up and back, to the back of your head or back edge of your ears. In the following photos of Alexi Yufkin, mid-jerk, you’ll see that very good jerkers maintain that elbows-in-front position throughout most of the arm action in the jerk:




When you do this with the back foot anchored, pushing back on the bar drives your torso forward and down, under the bar:


Here’s a couple more pics illustrating this anchored-back-foot, punching-up-and-back, torso-driven-forward-and-down movement:




In the photo above the lifter is picking up that front foot more than I’d like (keep it low and fast) but it’s a great illustration of the concept of getting the back foot down first.

I like to land the back foot first because the combined anchored back foot and fists-punching-back action puts the lifter in proper position under the bark automatically, rather than by an effort to “push the head through” that can lead to a forward lean and the bar too far behind the lifter. Punching to the back edge of the ears or back of the head emphasizes the drive of the hips and torso DOWN, not through, but still places the bar in the strongest position over the lifters shoulders.

Watch great split jerkers like Yufkin or Akkaev and you’ll see these principles in action. This is far from the last word on the jerk and I’m sure I’ll get a lot of questions. Fire away. Yeah, the jerk is f#$%ing hard. But when you hit a PR clean and nail the jerk, there are few better feelings in the world.

(Again, thanks to Nat Arem of Hookgrip for the use of his great photos)