Coach Dan Bell

Rubber City Weightlifting

Month: July, 2013

Don McCauley is Right.

Take a look at this adorable face.


Yes, that’s Don McCauley. Now wrap your mind around this: when Don talks about weightlifting, especially about technique, listen carefully. He is right. If you don’t already agree with most of what he says it is because you have not read what he writes, listened to him speak, seen him coach in the gym or you are wrong. It seems there are a lot of wrong people in weightlifting and CrossFit.

I just came back from the USA Weightlifting National Championships in Cincinnati, Ohio. I expected to see some so-so or marginal technique in the B sessions. To my dismay, poor to disastrous technique ran right up many of the “A” sessions. Yet a large number of USA coaches seem to think it’s not a problem. They, too are wrong. I saw “A” session lifters who did not know how to set their backs, started with hips too high, did not sweep the bar close, pulled too long, pushed their hips too far forward on the second pull, over split on jerks, pushed the bar out front on jerks (on openers), yanked the bar off of the floor and in general did not pull like decent lifters in Europe or Asia. It was hard to watch, sometimes.

Don McCauley has harped on this for years. He’s tried to address it with different language. (The “Catapult” is a different way to describe what’s happening in a good pull as used around the world, not a different technique) He wrote a book focused solely on teaching and learning proper technique. Half the sport has vilified him for what he says. While Don may not be the cuddliest of coaches, he is right.

Yeah, yeah, we’re not strong enough don’t squat enough blah blah blah. Shut up. You’re wrong about that and you’re wrong that we are fine on technique. Lifters do need to get strong (OBVIOUSLY) but weightlifting is a lot like hitting a baseball: no matter how strong you are, if you don’t make contact, it doesn’t matter; you’ll never make it out of A ball. If a lifter does not put the bar in the right place, does not interact with the bar properly, strength will get you only so far. You’ll still be looking up at the winners, who are strong AND lift efficiently.

CrossFiters should listen closely to Don as well. This won’t be news to some CrossFitters, but will be a shocking statement for most: your Olympic lifts look like shit. Consequently, you lift weights far below what you’d like to lift. It’s not your fault. It’s not really even the fault of your coaches. They were taught the “CrossFit Way.” That way is wrong. Just plain no doubt about it absofuckinglutely wrong. If you look like this . . .


or this . . .


don’t just hunt down the local weightlifting coach looking for help. Find the local weightlifting coach or CrossFit coach who thinks Don is right. Or you can go to one of Don’s clinics or the clinic of a like-minded weightlifting or CrossFit coach.

No less a coach than Glenn Pendlay (whose MDUSA team just won the team title at Nationals, putting four of eight lifters on the podium) brings Don in as often as he can to work with his lifters. Glenn teaches good technique, but even he thinks Don can improve his lifters and looks to him to help. If Glenn thinks Don is right, why don’t you?

Learn from Don, listen to what he says and give it an honest try. There are coaches, lifters and CrossFitters out there who ARE listening to Don. As Luke Skywalker says to Jabba the Hut, “You can profit by this, or be destroyed.” Listen to Don, and look like this:


Well, your beard might not be as cool as James Tatum’s if you listen to Don, but you can have that pull.


Power Trip, by Don McCauley

Don’s CrossFit


≥ 90%!


There are a lot of ways to train, innumerable programs to follow, a tsunami of exercise science to surf, and widely varying (and often conflicting) philosophies, theories and pet notions to consider when you are setting up a program. I’ve waded through most of it and experimented on myself and many lifters. I’ve distilled all I’ve learned down into a couple things I think are true: you get strong by lifting as heavy as possible, as often as possible; strength is a practice, especially in weightlifting. 

Strength is often spoken of generally, but it is always applied specifically. That is, you don’t do “strong.” You do a deadlift or a clean or a back squat, a very specific expression of strength. That is a complex series of neurological and muscular actions. The more a specific application of strength is practiced, the better you get at it.

But specificity is not simply expressed in an observable action. It is also expressed as a specific motor recruitment pattern and speed. Those recruitment patterns and speeds are as specific as the observable action and vary with the weight on the bar. So to be as specific as possible in your practice of strength, you need to duplicate as often as possible what you want to specifically do. And what we want to do in weightlifting is get as much weight as possible overhead in the snatch and clean & jerk.

Doing the competitive lifts with lower weights can be used to focus on developing speed or trying to ingrain a motor pattern at weights that are more easily controlled in the learning process, but once the technique has been “roughed in” there is little use for weights below 90% but for warmup, technique refinement or speed work. To lift heavy weights with technique that actually applies to heavy weights, you need to lift heavy weights as often as you can stand.

That means weights at or above 90%. These weights do not move like 80% or 85%. They don’t behave like lighter weights or feel like lighter weights. They demand more precision, more speed under the bar. They demand more patience in the pull and the most of your athletic ability. 85% ain’t 95% and never will be. You can do hundreds of reps at 80% or 85%, endless doubles and triples, and it doesn’t really mean shit when you get to 90%+ weights in the snatch and clean & jerk.


Lifting this heavy, as often as you’d need to get very good at it, is quite stressful. It is not for beginners. But far too many intermediate level lifters get stuck at the beginner stage, doing doubles and triples in the belief that they’ll continue to progress like they did early on. The truth is that just about anything will work with a beginner. But beyond that point you’re spinning your wheels with doubles and triples in the competitive lifts. If you look at the most successful programs, most do 90%+ very often.

The best things in life come one at a time. Ever hear anyone wish to meet their soul mates? Start thinking of the Olympic lifts that way, one at a time and heavy, because no one gives a shit what your PR triple is.