Coach Dan Bell

Rubber City Weightlifting

Month: December, 2013

Bring Up Your Bad Days

Becoming a better weightlifter is not about getting PRs on a regular basis. Anyone who has trained for a while can tell you that the initial rush of PRs quickly starts to fade, and PRs get hard to come by after a while. This frustrating epiphany drives some athletes out of the sport before they’ve really started. When the great days become few and far between, what do you do? You make the bad days better.


Progress will not always look like this . . .

After that initial rush of PRs, it takes a lot of volume at higher intensities to keep hitting new personal records. But it’s difficult to build that volume if you cannot consistently hit sub-maximal weights. New lifters will have lucky days and hit a PR. They don’t know how they did it, but are often too euphoric over their first 100 kilo snatch to think about it. But when they come in two days later and could not hit 85 kilos if millions of lives depended upon it, WHY will be the only question on their mind for days. The answer is inconsistent technique.

For experienced lifters with good, consistent technique, the great days come from many good days. An experienced lifter who snatches 125 kilos will rarely have a day when they cannot snatch 112. (90%) Having consistent technique means being able to hit weights between 80-95% often, making it much easier to build volume at those weights, and volume at heavy weights is what makes you strong. Being able to consistently hit 90% is especially important. Those are the weights that teach you about heavy weight, and there is a lot to learn.

This is why it is so important to obsessively focus on technique early in your weightlifting career. Like any skill, you need to practice it every day. That doesn’t mean heavy every day. It may mean a lot of days with just the bar, but having that bar in your hands every day matters. When I first start teaching someone the jerk, we work on a footwork drill that has to be so ingrained that the lifter does not think about it. I give new lifters this prescription for the drill: ten sets of ten reps every day for ten straight days. That means 1,000 reps in a week and a half. If they follow through on that (and too few actually do) then they will rarely have to think about their jerk footwork again, if ever.

You have to put in the work to get consistently good technique, and then you have to put in the heavy work often. That heavy work doesn’t mean limit work, but close enough to matter. If you do max-for-the-day training, it means you’ll be able to get up to 90% much more often. If you are on a more classical percentage program, when the program calls for 90-95% weights, you’ll likely hit them, avoiding clumsy, improvised modifications of the program.

A bad day for a new lifter has a lot of attempts and a lot of misses. It might have some good looking lifts and probably lifts so ugly that the coach reflexively turns away and winces. If the lifter keeps coming back and keeps practicing, a year later their bad day consists of a miss or two at 92% when they had planned on 95% that day. Then they move on to the next exercise. The training is much less stressful, and much more productive. With practice, the lifter has made their bad day an essential part of reaching their training goals, not an exercise in “PR or injury” Russian Roulette. They have made their bad days good, and when the good days start to pile up, you don’t have to wait so long for a great day.



Bodybuilding in Weightlifting


(Calm yourselves, Klokophiles)

When the Bulgarian training craze swept the sport of weightlifting some years ago, it became dogma almost overnight that you only need to train six exercises to be a successful weightlifter: snatch, clean & jerk, back squat, front squat, power snatch and power clean. The idea was that constant practice of the competitive lifts makes you strong in the lifts, with squats giving you the leg drive for big weights. The idea that areas of the body other than the legs should be targeted for strength gains got lost in the race to emulate the latest breakout foreign program. But even the vaunted Bulgarians of the eighties and nineties did foundational bodybuilding as juniors. Zlaten Vanev did a lot of curls to protect his elbow after blowing it out on a jerk. There is a lesson there for the rest of us.

The Chinese believed that being Asian they started behind other nations in upper body strength, an essential quality for success in a strength sport, they properly reasoned. So they busted their asses at rows, presses, pullups, handstand pushups and even benching. Judging by the stunningly muscular specimens they put on the podium year after year, it’s paying off.


Bodybuilding hasn’t hurt the Chinese . . .

A strong upper body is vital in widening the overhead “groove” for the snatch and jerk. The stronger the lifter’s upper body, the more room for error–front to back displacement of the bar from the ideal doesn’t necessarily mean a missed lift. Bodybuilding is especially important for weightlifting women.


Welcome to Gun City, population: 2

While women’s leg strength doesn’t start out too far behind men’s, they lag far behind in upper body mass and strength. One of the great benefits of the growth of CrossFit has been the acceptance and encouragement of strong upper bodies in women.


At this past American Open in Dallas, you could almost tell if a female lifter had a CrossFit background by upper body development alone; weightlifting women had paid far less attention to upper body training than did the CrossFit women. I think this is where weightlifting can learn from CrossFit. CrossFit women did not have the sharp technique of women who focused on weightlifting, but they saved a lot of lifts that women with weaker upper bodies would have missed.

In the past I have made the point that too much upper body muscle can push you into the next higher weight class without conveying much benefit to the lifter. I’ve since re-thought that stance. I’m not talking about pro-bodybuilder mass, but enough to protect shoulders and elbows and make imperfect lifts make-able. I also have to agree with Zygmunt Smalcerz, the USAW Olympic Training Center coach, who observed upon his arrival here that American lifters are too fat. He thought many American weightlifters at least one weight class heavier than they should be. Well, maybe not, if that fat lost is replaced by upper body muscle. 

Dimitry Klokov seems to be every American lifter’s wet dream right now, partly, I think, because he’s built the upper body of a Titan. He looks great, yes, but did you ever hear about him injuring a shoulder or an elbow as he fought his way to the podium at Worlds and the Olympics? I don’t think that’s a coincidence. His strong upper body keeps him in the game and helps him win championships. But for the Klokophiles, here’s one more beefcake shot: