Coach Dan Bell

Rubber City Weightlifting

Month: September, 2013

A Little Old School Support

No, not monetary support. A lot of lifters and coaches in this sport could use that. But perhaps they need old school supports more.

Back in the old days, when many gyms had power racks, powerlifters and Olympic lifters did things called “supports.” They’d take a movement position that was weak, load up that part of it beyond their max, and simply hold–or support–the weight in that position. And it worked. They got stronger in that position. You see a form of supports in use now by some coaches and lifters as part of complexes, where lifter will pause at some point in the pull for a few seconds, then continue the pull, or come back down to just below the knees or just off the floor and freeze for a few seconds, then pull. But used as part of complexes or multi-rep sets, this pause is necessarily done with less than max weights.  The old-timers used to load up supports way behond 100%. While this can be difficult and even dangerous to do for a pull, it works very well overhead and in some other non-pulling positions.

A couple of my lifters–one qualified for nationals and one right on the cusp–have been having trouble with jerks. Both were uncomfortable with heavy weight on their chests, finding a good rack position difficult to achieve, and one very shaky overhead. So I decided to address the problem as one of weakness rather than technique and attack it as simply and directly as possible: we’d get in those positions over and over again with a metric-shit-ton of weight. (Yes, that is a precise measure I made up)

Though he can clean 160 easily, we’ve never pushed Jon Dawson beyond that, as he had jerked 150kg perhaps twice in his career, and even then he shook overhead like a Chihuahua shitting peach seeds. So we put him in a power rack in the split jerk position with a loaded bar on pins just below lockout.


From here he pushed up until the bar came off the pins and he had to support it in the split, then recover and stand, counting three to five seconds before he could lower the bar to the pins.



Over a couple weeks he worked up from 100% to about 120% in these Jerk Recoveries. Last week he clean and jerked 150 twice, 156 and 158, holding all overhead without a quiver, this despite footwork with which he still has some issues.

Kat Lee is a converted pole vaulter who is probably the most explosive athlete I’ve had since I lost Manu Rattan to med school a dozen years ago. But she can pull a lot more than she can hold on her chest for the jerk. So we put her in the jerk boxes and had her take 100%+ on her shoulders, then dip and stand three times.


She’s worked up to 25kg over her best clean. If you watch a lot of the Chinese videos, you may have seen some of their lifters doing this in a power rack with ridiculous weights. (The Chinese haven’t invented a single new thing in this sport, they’ve just decided to use all of what has worked in the past in a more organized fashion than most) Kat did these two or three times and suddenly she was blowing away jerks that two weeks earlier had seemed impossible.

My “science-y” coaching friends will say that the effect may be psychological or that the heavy weight pushes back the inhibitory response of the Golgi Tendon Organs or some such. It is interesting to speculate, and perhaps even enlightening to study. But in the gym, trying to get more weight over lifters’ heads, we just know that this works and it has worked for decades.

In an earlier post (Science!) I wrote about the proper role of science in coaching. Here is a great place to repeat that message: science works in SUPPORT of coaching. Helpful training concepts have almost always originated in the gym and been later explained by science. We already know that supports work. One day exercise scientists will be able to tell us exactly how, but we don’t need to know to benefit from them.



“Everyone has a plan ’til they get hit.”


Mike Tyson said that. I’m not sure if it was after he won or lost. It doesn’t matter. The wisdom stands. We all make plans. Rarely do those plans play out the way we assume. Of course lifters and coaches should plan training. Of course many lifters will have a rough path to the Olympics laid out in their heads. But there are a lot of shots to be taken between making the plan and reaching the goal.

If you want to qualify for Nationals, make it on an international team, or even stand atop the podium at Worlds or the Olympics, you have to possess qualities of character that are indispensable to that kind of success. Foremost among these, I think, is resilience. You have to be able to handle what seem like endless setbacks. You have to bear up under the weight of failure again and again. You have to keep coming back and keep pushing and adjusting to each new obstacle–each new reality–that presents itself. It’s what old guys call mental toughness.

I have run into far too many psychologically fragile athletes. Missed lifts are the end of the world, or at least the end of the workout; as if there will not be thousands of missed lifts in their careers. Altering the plan to train around an injury or family crisis makes the training they can do seem useless. Not hitting the meet lifts they programed for at the end of a lengthy training cycle has them questioning the entire training philosophy. They don’t handle bad days well, leading, inevitably, to more bad days.

A mentally tough athlete does not plan on results, but on work–long, monotonous work–with all the attendant ups and downs of a very long job. They don’t get too emotionally invested in a 120kg PR snatch they know puts them in the B session at Nationals. Nor do they get hung up on a few misses in a month of hundreds of lifts. They attach to the work. As long as they have shown up and worked to the best of their ability, they go home satisfied they are still on the path, good days and bad days both. They don’t start questioning the program or their coach. They don’t blame a miss on a teammate who accidentally walked in front of them during a PR attempt. They don’t allow themselves the out of writing off their own potential or running themselves down.

My grandfather had six kids and three jobs for a good bit of his life. The stakes were high. Whether or not  he would put his head down and work until the job was done was never a question in his mind. He knew what had to be done for the well being of his family. Good days, bad days, and downright shitty days, Jack Boone could be found doing the work that he knew needed to be done. He didn’t have the luxury of being fragile.


Can this mental toughness be taught? Learned? I don’t know. Maybe. But I have seen people who I didn’t think had any resilience in them dig down and find it. I have seen lifters who suffered daily frustration one day hit a dogged groove and just start grinding away at the tens of thousands of lifts they needed to become great technicians, to become truly strong. Their minds changed somehow; it would not be long before their bodies had no choice but to follow.