Good Enough . . . Isn’t

by coachdanbell

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.


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.