Coach Dan Bell

Rubber City Weightlifting

Month: October, 2013

Thank You, CrossFit


Like all close family, weightlifters and CrossFitters have our contentious times, but also like family, we show how much we appreciate each other from time to time. In that spirit I’d like to say to CrossFit and CrossFitters everywhere, THANK YOU for what you have done and keep doing for the sport of weightlifting in the USA.

I took four lifters to a local meet at CrossFit Endeavor, near Columbus, Ohio, yesterday. Two of them needed a total to qualify for the American Open in December. Now I’ve been in the sport a long time, and local meets have always been much the same: 15 to 30 lifters in a session or two, mostly the same few faces we’ve seen for years. The spectators would be a smattering of girlfriends, husbands, parents or bored friends trying to sit through the sameness of the competition until their friend or relative lifts, when they can–mercifully–go home and watch the last half of the football game or finish weekend errands. But that was before CrossFit. Before CrossFit introduced barbells and Olympic lifting to tens or hundreds of thousands of average people.

I encountered something very different from my previous experience at this local meet. There were not 20 lifters but 70. Not a dozen spectators, there were a couple hundred. And they were engaged. They cheered and stood and crowded shoulder to shoulder for a better view. And mind you there were no world or national records being put up. Not even state records. They cheered for 150 or 200 pounds. And when someone put 300 pounds over their heads, the place went nuts.

You see most of the crowd was CrossFitters. They knew what even two hundred pounds over their heads feels like. They know in their bones and tendons and shaking muscles just how heavy 300 pounds really is–and they appreciate like hell anyone who can get that from the ground to overhead and hold it.

Most of the competitors were CrossFitters, too. Their technique was shaky. Their understanding of how a meet runs–counting attempts, kilos instead of pounds, the time clock and rules, even how the bar is loaded–was sketchy at best. But they came with fire in their bellies and love in their hearts for this sport. The rest are details they’ll fill in as they go.

For CrossFitters, competitors and fans alike, qualifying for a national level meet is a big deal. Those of us who have been in the sport for some time come to think of qualifying for Nationals or the American Open as simply a foot in the door, the beginning of a real weightlifting career. CrossFitters understand just how few people get that good, good enough to be at Nationals. They appreciate it. My lifter Jon Dawson had a good but not great day for him. He went 3 for 6 and hit just what he needed for the American Open. But his last two Clean & Jerks were the heaviest of the meet. And when it was announced that he’d qualified for the AO, you’d have thought it was announced he’d won gold at the Olympics. Jon has labored long and hard for those lifts and I think he was touched how many people acknowledged the accomplishment. It is a big deal. And CrossFitters know it.

How does all this help weightlifting? CrossFit has brought a big injection of passion to weightlifting. As many have pointed out already, CrossFitters are eager to better themselves at the lifts, and this has allowed some of us weightlifting coaches to scratch out a living from teaching the lifts. Paid coaches are professional coaches who keep getting better at their craft rather than treating it as a hobby.  CrossFit has created a growing fan base for weightlifting, which I believe will eventually lead to growing numbers of kids entering the sport. CrossFit means more talent, more money, and a growing and better funded USA Weightlifting. After yesterday, it is clear to me how true that will be in the coming years. Someone said recently that if you don’t love weightlifting, you are not in weightlifting. Well CrossFitters are bringing the love by the boxful.




A Review of American Weightlifting


Coach Greg Everett’s new documentary American Weightlifting is an earnest insider’s look at a little known and even less appreciated sport in the United States. While Coach Everett is obviously passionate about his subject, he is a novice filmmaker and storyteller; these shortcomings may keep American Weightlifting from finding a broader audience and raising public awareness of the sport the way Pumping Iron did for bodybuilding in the ’70s.

Everett interviews coaches and athletes trying to find what drew them to and keeps them involved in a sport that offers little in the way of financial reward or social recognition. With a tiny budget for the film, thus little for travel, Everett focuses on the veteran coaches and athletes close to him, rarely straying from the West Coast. This does not hurt the film, as the emotions and problems expressed in the interviews seem representative of many weightlifting coaches and athletes. Still, it would have been interesting to hear the thoughts of other successful American coaches such as Glenn Pendlay, Kyle Pierce, Tim Swords, Don McCauley or Mark Cannella.

The film addresses problems of the sport in the USA, but little is offered in the way of answers. Oddly, the only interview with anyone in a leadership position within the sport is with Rick Adams, former CEO of USA Weightlifting. If you are talking about the lack of popularity of a sport, it’s anemic growth and poor international results, wouldn’t an interview with the current CEO or members of the Board of Directors be an obvious approach? Some contrast with the view of those in the trenches might be a source of conflict that not only would raise the level of storytelling, but help illuminate the story for viewers. Nor are we ever offered a look at the powerhouse foreign lifters and programs that loom so large over US weightlifting; it is a David versus Goliath story that has the potential to be riveting.

But it is in the art of film making that Everett falls short. He has a great subject, and even with limited travel finds revealing interviews. However, the film is overly long with far too many training scenes. It would have benefited greatly from a stronger and more experienced hand in the editing room. With a wealth of material and potential conflict, there is no rising action, no climax scene, in short, not a hint of classical story structure. It leaves the film flat and repetitive. Which is a shame, because it is a story ripe for telling. American Weightlifting is a noble effort, driven by love of the sport and no doubt an equal share of frustration, but it is likely to strike home only with people who already spend a lot of time with their hands on a barbell.

Dan Bell



Now That I Have Your Attention . . .


Wow. My faith in humanity has diminished just a bit. Normally my posts get from 400 to 600 views total. My last post was a nearly substance free and obscenity laced rant, for much of which I railed against putting foreign programs, lifters and coaches on a pedestal. It pulled almost 3,000 views in less than two days. A more cynical man might take that as a cue for more of the same. I am cynical, but not that cynical. (Not always, anyway) But thanks for reading. As a reward, here is a post that’s actually worth something.

The Back Half Drill

I use this drill with all of my lifters. Experienced lifters use it to warm up and as a reminder/reinforcement of a proper pull. Newer lifters use it to learn how to properly direct the second pull. I wish I could say I invented it, but it is an amalgam partly stolen from the heel jump drill I first encountered in Don McCauley’s book Power Trip and partly from a Sean Waxman instructional video.

It is not that difficult to teach a proper first pull, but once the bar clears the knees, that’s where a lot of lifters go very wrong. While Sean Waxman’s drill can be useful, I still think lifters have a tendency to be too far forward in the foot with this drill. Taking away the ball of the foot by hanging it off of a raised surface accomplishes a few things: it is impossible to push the hips too far forward because there is no front of the base to go to; this means the hips finish going forward at full extension and no more forward than that; the balance being so far back in the foot puts the athlete in a bit of danger of losing their balance backwards, which forces the hips to pull out and down in the right timing.

This can all be accomplished with the heel jump drill, but adding a bar forces the lifter to engage the bar as well. Even in the best pull the hips will drive the bar a little forward. That will happen in this drill unless the lifter makes a conscious effort to keep the bar pinned to the hip–to engage the lats and keep them engaged.

If we were only jumping, though, it would ignore learning to transition under the bar in the right timing. So we do one jump, one power snatch, one jump, one power snatch.

I can already hear someone out there protesting that, “The lifter should not be driving through the heels at the top of the pull!” I agree, and I have never seen this drill result in that. What it does is teach the lifter to go to the ball of the foot as late as possible. The resulting pull has most lifters going to the balls of their feet, some simply rising on them, many actively driving through the balls of the feet. My lifter Jon Dawson is as close to pulling exactly the way I’d like as anyone I’ve coached. He had been lifting for a little while when we met and he had the tendency to drive the hip too far forward and lean back away from the bar. This drill helped him a lot, as you can see.

Give this drill a try. And I promise to be back later (much later) with a profane and riveting post long on rant and short on substance.