Coach Dan Bell

Rubber City Weightlifting

You Can’t Build a Pyramid From the Top Down


Almost everyone agrees that lack of numbers is one of the biggest obstacles to international weightlifting success for USA Weightlifting. There just aren’t very many junior and open age lifters in the sport. With a small pool of athletes from which to draw, there are fewer lifters with elite level talent to develop. The pyramid analogy has been the most common way of framing the many possible solutions offered to address our international failures. In this analogy a large number of athletes are assumed to be the base of the pyramid, given that athlete numbers are what we need. I disagree. It is the local club coaches that make up the base of weightlifting, not the athletes. Weightlifters are the next course up from the base, for the most part the product of the effort and dedication of the coaches that start clubs, recruit athletes and introduce the vast majority of lifters to this obscure sport. If we are looking for a way to grow the sport, to get more lifters into the sport, why not help the people who actually bring almost every new lifter into the sport? Why not encourage the growth of their numbers and their success?

But what do local coaches need to stay in the sport? Money. Connection. Professional development. A little respect.

A coach has to make a real living to free up the time and resources for success. Don McCauley has argued for years that we need to professionalize our coaching ranks to match the professionals in countries like Russia, China, South Korea, and Iran. Can you imagine Ohio State’s football team run by an unpaid amateur who has a real job elsewhere? Who showed up to practice, but had no time for anything else, like recruiting? Nearly all of the coaches in USAW are trying to do something near to that, find and develop national and world class athletes while working as a lawyer, factory worker, Physical Therapist, or carpenter. Making a real living as a coach means time to focus on recruiting athletes. It means time for professional development through continuing education, including visits to successful programs and coaches. It means freeing up resources to secure a training facility and equipment. It means time to build sponsor relationships. Money is time and how that time is spent can make you a professional.

CrossFit has been a huge help from a financial point of view, allowing at least some coaches to supplement their income by teaching weightlifting clinics and classes. And as CrossFit grows, those opportunities grow for coaches. But more can be done. That growth in CrossFit has meant growth in USAW revenues from the Level 1 Courses.  Why don’t we start spreading some of that increased revenue to the coaches in the field who consistently produce at the national, but especially at the international level? This help should not focus only at the top, however. Coaches struggling to establish clubs can benefit greatly from what amounts to a small amount of help. It is expensive to start a club: two platforms, two squat racks and two complete training sets with men’s and women’s bars can cost $4,000 at the low end. Equipment–new or used–or small cash grants to mitigate start-up costs could be a huge help. I don’t know a single coach who has been in the sport more than a few years who hasn’t sunk thousands or tens of thousands of dollars into their clubs with little or no hope of ever seeing that money again. They do it out of love for the sport, but should love hurt so much? USAW can help ease that pain a bit and gain many effective coaches and clubs for not much investment.

One of the first things a local coach realizes is how far he or she is from other weightlifting coaches. Except on meet days, we are pretty much isolated from each other. But even at local meets there is little time for meaningful conversation between coaches, with coaching duties taking up most of their time. Many coaches have more free time to talk weightlifting at national level meets, but it is informal and haphazard. Coaches who don’t have lifters qualified for national level meets miss out on even this, as the expense of traveling to national meets without lifters participating is difficult to justify. The growth of internet forums has allowed informal communication between coaches, but without sitting across the table from each other, face-to-face, internet “communication” often breaks down into pissing matches and petty squabbles. There is also the problem of the water being muddied by newbies and trolls. We need an annual gathering of coaches for networking, comparing notes on training, recruiting, and development, continuing education, mentoring, all things that best happen face-to-face. An annual gathering of coaches for the presentation and sharing of information, for workshops, networking, and just for getting to know each other, is essential not only to the individual development of the coach, but to achieve the aims of the greater organization.

I’ve been told by national office employees more than once, “That information is on the website.” Leaving aside just how difficult it is to find anything on the USAW website, searching for scholarly papers, or articles on training, fundraising, starting a club, etcetera, finding information that way does not connect the coach to other coaches. Face to face conversations take twists and turns that lead you down paths you had not considered, to information you didn’t know you wanted or needed. And the need to talk to someone who has overcome similar problems should not be underestimated.

Face-to-face is the way most of our continuing education should be done as well.  Workshops and presentations should be done at the annual coaches gathering.  While the Level 1 course should still be paid for by those taking it (it is a vital revenue stream for USAW and most who take it are enhancing their resumes, not coaching competitive athletes) the coaches who take the Level 2 course are almost always serious about coaching highly competitive weightlifters. Remember when I spoke about respect? Local coaches should be regarded as the vital assets to the sport that they are, not an additional revenue source. The Level 2 Course should be free and travel around the country to the club coaches who need it. It is an investment in USAW success by developing the local level coaches upon which the entire organization depends.

CrossFit has introduced tens or hundreds of thousands of people to the Olympic lifts. Once people do them and understand them, they love them. They want to do more. But that is useless to USA Weightlifting if there is no one to walk up to these people and say, “Would you like to give the sport of weightlifting a try?” That is the local club coach. We need more of them and we need to help them become the best coaches they can be. They find the lifters. They teach them foundational technique. They get them to the national level and sometimes beyond. More coaches equals more clubs equals more lifters equals the numbers we say we need. If we’re serious about growth, about international success, about medals at Worlds and the Olympics, we need to start building the pyramid at the bottom, with coaches.



The 3 Most Important Positions in Weightlifting

In all the debate (bitter feuding) over technique in the interwebs, rarely have I read a reference to the position of the bar over the base in relation to the pull. For me it is the most relevant point in the entire discussion. People talk about flat-footed pulling versus driving through the ball of your foot and the effect on bar speed a lot, but in all the caterwauling about catapult, triple extend, jump & shrug, yada yada yada, few have mentioned the effect of a particular technique on the position of the bar over your base of balance–your feet, between the ball of your foot and your heel.

It does not matter how high the bar is driven if it is out of position. If you can’t meet the bar in balance and act on it, you’re just treating the barbell like a shot, throwing it up and watching helplessly as it falls. The biggest factor in putting the barbell in the right place to do something with it is the position of the bar over your base of balance, getting it there and keeping it there as long as possible.

You might think the starting position would be big on my list of three, and while I do think there are better starting positions, several variations of the start have been successful, from Norik Vardanian’s high hip start (favored by current USA national team coach Zygmunt Smalcerz) to a standard start to a hip position so low that the shoulders start behind the bar. As long as you can effectively sweep the bar in and over the base, the start works. But you have to hit that first vital position, at the knees. . . .


I’ve used this sequence before because Darrel Barnes has one of the best pulls of any American lifter–or any lifter anywhere for that matter. Look at the third photo in the sequence. Darrel is able to sweep the bar deep over his base because he got his shins to vertical. His weight is shifted slightly to his heels and he has used his lats to push the bar very close, almost touching skin. That shins-vertical part is essential; the bar is positioned directly over the middle of the base. It cannot go deeper than that as you’d have to go through flesh and bone to get the bar over the heel. Most lifters find that undesirable. Darrel has the bar as far back over his base as it can go.

Okay, the bar is over the middle of the base. It is crucial to keep it there. Even if you got to this point perfectly, you can still screw up. We have to keep the bar over the middle of the base. If at this point you leave your shoulders forward and attempt to drive the hips to the bar, you will drive the bar forward, either to the front of the base (ball of the foot) or beyond it. The effort here must be to raise the torso and get the torso vertical behind the bar. This brings the bar right back to the hips in the snatch or top of the thighs in the clean & jerk; most important is that this movement keeps the bar right over the middle of the base or, for some lifters, gets it even a bit deeper over the base. The knees will be re-bent and in front of the bar. The torso will be vertical and behind the bar.



Cameron Swart (above) and Caine Wilkes (below) both hit the second vital position pretty much perfectly, Cameron in pic 4 and Caine in pic 6. Their heels are down, although many lifters can hit this position on the balls of their feet. What is critical is that the bar is still over the middle of the base or deeper, and the torso is vertical behind the bar, heels down or not.

From here the lifter’s legs are employed to drive the torso/bar up. Driving up from position 2 will have the lifter finishing the pull in more or less a straight line, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle joints a lining up and leaning back about 5 to 10 degrees–vital position number 3. This angle, too, is vital. The backward lean clears the hips from over the middle of the base so the bar can move more or less straight up, rather than being driven forward. This makes the task of keeping the bar close much easier.


In pic 5 above (and in all the sequence shots) you will see that same slight lean backwards, all the big joints–shoulder, hip, knee and ankle–lining up in a straight line. The slight backward lean has another positive side effect: it leaves the lifter slightly out of balance backwards, forcing the lifter to reflexively withdraw the hips and begin the descent under the bar in perfect timing, while the bar is still going up.

This backward lean creates a bar path unlike the classic Soviet S-pull of the 70s and 80s. Rather than the bar being momentarily driven forward of the base at the top of the pull, the lean back allows the bar to stay over the base of balance. Forgive my poor art skills, but the drawing below should help illustrate what I mean.


The net effect of this pull is that the lifter’s feet will move back an inch or two to re-establish the base of balance where he/she has sent the bar. I consider this to be ideal.

I have employed the back-half drill extensively to get my lifters to this kind of pull. Getting a lifter to position 2 with the balls of the feet on the ground is very difficult to achieve, so I take the balls of the feet away. Will that make them “jump” from their heels when they get back to the floor? No, not in my experience. Many still drive through the ball of the foot, or at least have the heels pop up off of the floor at the end of the pull.

Look at each photo sequence and compare your positions to these three. If you aren’t hitting them, I believe you are falling short of your potential.

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.

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.



An advanced degree in exercise science, a USAW or CrossFit certification and pile of translated Soviet weightlifting texts makes you a great weightlifting coach like going to art school makes you Vincent van Gogh. Coaching this sport is and will always be a lot more about art than science. And great art has always been experimental and a challenge to the status quo.

People were getting strong and learning how to get stronger long before the Soviets started applying their “scientific” method to weightlifting.



(And let’s remember that Lemarckism was the official scientific position of the Soviet Union until 1964, so don’t hold up Soviet “science” as a model. No one was in a hurry to snap up quality Soviet autos or electronics, either)

The Soviet starting point was finding out what their best coaches and lifters were doing that worked. They then said, all science-y like, “Let’s do more of that.” It did not originate in the lab, it started in the gym, with coaches and lifters trying things, keeping what worked and throwing out what did not. Then scientists tested and verified and supported with some deeper insights into the work already done in the gym.

Innovators are the people that move everything forward. And innovators are often discounted, derided or even disdained by the guardians of the establishment. But those who experiment and challenge the accepted are the ones who have moved the entire sport of weightlifting forward. The Soviets went unchallenged until Ivan Abadjiev tested the limits of volume and the efficacy of assistance exercises. The coaching and strength training establishment sent up howls of indignation at the very notion of training so heavy, so often, with so little variety. But his Bulgarian team beat the Soviets and only later did his methods find support within the scientific community.

The deference showed to the sports science community in strength training and weightlifting is often misplaced. The results of studies and experiments are too often regarded as immutable. (If it ain’t falsifiable, it ain’t science!) An otherwise smart but scientifically under-educated coaching population accepts research at face value because they didn’t learn how to evaluate scientific claims, read an abstract, get an insider’s view of how science happens or learn the limits of scientific claims. How much strength training “knowledge” has been garnered from masters theses that sampled an untrained population without parsing out beginner progress? And study or experimental design that clears the low bar of some scientific journals does not always advance our understanding of the sport; it can, however, stifle innovation and experimentation.

Coaches as scientifically well educated at Glenn Pendlay know this, and keep an open mind. Glenn has solicited the input of Louie Simmons (Ohio College of Ironwork) and John Broz (Midwestern Mean Streets University) and incorporated their insights with his own hard-won, in-the-gym knowledge to create a unique system that he individualizes to every lifter at MDUSA.

You don’t have a masters degree in exercise science? Didn’t study at the feet of chiseled-in-stone-Soviet-periodization guy? There may be hope for you anyway, coach. Remember, this . . .


did not produce this:


This did:



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.