Journey to Bankok: Dean Scicchitano’s Path to Youth Worlds

Youth Weightlifting - 2017 Youth Worlds - Dean Scicchitano - Pic 1

In 2012, Dean Scicchitano competed in his first weightlifting meet.  At age 12, he had a bodyweight of 58kg.  Dean lifted a meager 16 kg in the snatch and 23kg in the clean and jerk—a performance only a mother could love.

Fast forward five years . . . Dean is one of the top youth weightlifters in the United States.  He is one of only a handful of youth athletes to receive a stipend from USA Weightlifting.  He is ranked number 2 in the 94 kg weight class.  And he was recently selected to represent the United States at Youth Worlds in Bankok.  In fact, Dean was deemed the fourth most valuable member of USA’s Men’s Youth Team.

Dean talked to me recently about his experience in Bankok and what it takes to become an elite youth weightlifter.

Q: How were you were selected to participate at Youth Worlds?

A: My friend, Ian, and I went to the American Open to compete in the Youth Division.  I wasn’t thinking about Youth Worlds.  I just wanted to qualify for a stipend.  After the American Open, I received an email telling me that I was eligible to compete for a spot on Team USA.  The final decision was made after my performance at Junior Nationals.

Q: So, you earned a spot on the team at Junior Nationals?

A: Yes.  At Junior Nationals I needed a total that was one-point above what I had made in the American Open.  I wasn’t feeling very well the day of the competition, so I knew this would be hard to do.  Plus, there was another lifter in my weight class who was also competing for the spot.  It was very stressful.  After the snatch session, I was 7kg behind.  I knew that I would have to work hard in the clean and jerk if I wanted a spot on the team.  Fortunately, I came back in the clean and jerk, beat the other lifter and earned a spot on the team.

Q: After qualifying, what did you do to prepare for Youth Worlds?

A: I only had six weeks between qualifying and competing at Youth Worlds.  I spent the first week working exclusively on strength—no Olympic lifts.  Then, I spent the next three weeks working on power exercises and lifts from the hang.  The last two weeks, I focused on the traditional Olympic lifts from the floor.

Q: Tell me about traveling to Thailand.

A: For starters, TSA doesn’t like me.  Let’s just say, we have a little suspicion about my skin.  I got selected for every random check possible.  It was very annoying.  The rest of the trip went okay, though.  Team USA traveled in two groups: an East Coast group and a West Coast group.  I traveled with the West Coast group.  We met up at LAX (Los Angeles) and then flew together to China and then to Thailand.  It was a 26 hour flight for me!

Q: Did you take anyone with you to Thailand?

A: No.  I traveled by myself to LAX and then met up with the rest of the West Coast group there.  I’ve traveled by myself before, so I wasn’t nervous.

Q: Who coached you at the event?

A: Team USA brought three coaches: Pyrros Dimas, Mike Gattone, and Jimmy Duke.  Athletes who did not bring their own coaches could select one of these coaches to help them.  I chose Jimmy because I felt most comfortable with him.  Jimmy lives in my part of the country, in the St. Louis area, and I see him at a lot of local meets.  I trusted him to take care of me.

Q: How was the competition environment different than other competitions?

A: The equipment was so much nicer than what I am used to using.  Everything was new.  I’m used to working with old equipment, stuff that might break at any moment.  Also, they had an athlete rest room—not a bathroom—but a room where you could lay down and take a nap or listen to music.  I used that room to listen to music while I was waiting.

Q: How was the crowd different than at a local competition?

A: Well, the audience was mostly athletes and coaches from the countries attending.  Because it was so far away, parents and friends couldn’t come.  However, everyone from Team USA was at every session—we were required to be there.  And we cheered for everyone.  It was a lot of fun to support the other members of my team this way.  Plus, I got to see some amazing lifts, including CJ Cummings and Harrison Maurus make new youth world records.  Also, there was a native of Thailand in the audience who banged a drum after every successful lift.  He was at every session.  He added some fun to the competition.

Q: What were your biggest concerns about competing at Youth Worlds?

A: I wasn’t sure how I was going to react to the competitive environment.  This was definitely the biggest meet I had competed in, and I hoped that I wouldn’t get too nervous.  Fortunately, I got more adrenaline than normal and was able to compete just fine.

Q: How did you feel about your performance?

A: My event coach, Jimmy, opened me lighter than I wanted.  Another lifter bombed out earlier in the competition, and I think everyone else was played more conservatively after that.  So, I understood the decision. Still, I wish I could have lifted more weight.  I’m proud of my performance, though.  I had the heaviest clean and jerk out of the B session.  I took 5th place in the B session and 14th place overall.

Q: What was the most exciting thing about Youth Worlds?

A: It was amazing to see Harrison Maurus and CJ Cummings make new world records.  They are both great athletes who work really hard.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: I want to qualify for the Youth Pan Am Games with a solid performance at Youth Nationals.  I’m excited about the Pan Ams because I have medal potential there.  Also, I will have more time to prepare for this competition if I make the team.

Q: What are you doing now in training to prepare for these events?

A: Well, today my coach, Boris Urman, had us lift with no shoes, no wrist wraps, no knee wraps, nothing.  He likes to mix things up to challenge us.  It actually felt better than I thought it would.  Generally, though, my coach has me doing lots of strength work.  We’ll refine technique as the competition gets closer.

Oh Cramp!

Youth Weightlifting Muscle Cramp

If you have been weightlifting long, there is a good chance you’ve experienced muscle cramps, also referred to as muscle spasms.  What are they?  What causes them?  And most importantly . . . How can you prevent them?

What is a muscle cramp?

A muscle cramp is a sudden, involuntary muscle contraction.  It is usually harmless, but it can cause severe pain, limit range of motion, and make it temporarily impossible to use the affected muscle.  A muscle cramp feels like a hard lump of tissue under the skin.

What causes muscle cramps?

According to Michael F. Bergeron, executive director of the National Institute for Athletic Health & Performance at Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls, S.D., muscle cramps are caused by two things:

    1. Muscle Overload & Fatigue: When an inadequately conditioned athlete trains intensely with heavy loads, local cramping of the overworked muscles can occur.


  1. Electrolyte Deficits: Extensive sweating can lead to a whole-body electrolyte imbalance, which can lead to widespread cramping, even when there is no muscle overload or fatigue.

Creatine consumption does not cause muscle cramps. Dr. Michael Greenwood, of Arkansas State University, conducted studies of Division IA football players between 1998 and 2000, examining the effects of creatine on cramps, dehydration, muscle tightness, muscle strains, non-contact joint injuries, contact injuries, and illness.

At the end of the study, Dr. Greenwood concluded that, “Creatine supplementation does not appear to increase the incidence of injury or cramping in Division IA college football players.” In fact, creatine users had significantly less cramping, heat illness or dehydration, muscle tightness, muscle strains, and total injuries than non-creatine users.

Dr. Greenwood subsequently performed a similar study with baseball players, who were training and competing in hot, humid environments. The results were similar, leading Dr. Greenwood to conclude that creatine consumption did not appear to increase the incidence of dehydration, cramping, and/or muscle injury in comparison to athletes who do not take creatine.


Muscle cramps are especially common in weightlifters because they . . .

    1. Train Heavy & Work Hard: Weightlifters consistently load their muscles with heavy weights and work the muscles to fatigue.


  1. Dehydrate Regularly: The most common way to drop weight prior to a weightlifting competition is to shed water weight through mild dehydration. Dehydration can contribute to an electrolyte imbalance.
Dehydration may not cause muscle cramps.  
Some people in the medical community believe that dehydration—even significant dehydration—does not increase a person’s tendency to experience muscle cramps.
A 2010 study performed by the Department of Health, Nutrition, and Exercise Sciences at North Dakota State University, examined the effects of sweat loss on 10 male cyclists.  The men cycled until they had lost 3% of their body mass in sweat.  The resulting dehydration did not increase their tendency for muscle cramps. 
Another study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2013 examined the effects of serious dehydration on athletes at work.  Specifically, researchers tested ten 24-year old men, having them exercise until they had lost 5% of their body mass (about 4 liters) of water.  The researchers found that dehydration and mild electrolyte loss did not make the men more susceptible to muscle cramps.
Even so, many individuals in the medical community, still believe that dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can cause muscle cramps.  These individuals refute the methods used in the studies mentioned and cite the science behind the theory:
“When the nerves that connect to the muscles aren’t surrounded by as much water and sodium as they need,” they become hypersensitive, causing the muscles to involuntarily contract or spasm, says Bergeron, executive director of the National Institute for Athletic Health & Performance at Sanford USD Medical Center.  

How can I treat muscle cramps?

The two types of muscle cramps have different causes and, therefore, require different treatments:

Muscle Overload & Fatigue

  1. Massage: Massaging the cramped muscle increases blood circulation to the affected area and helps relax the muscle.

When massaging a cramp, you can use your hands or a number of massage tools, such as a foam roller, a ball, or a stick.

Massaging a local muscle cramp can be painful and take several sessions.  Once, after beginning an intense squat program, my son developed a baseball-sized muscle cramp in his thigh.  It took two weeks of nightly massage before it was resolved.

Caution: You can cause bruising if you massage a single area for too long or press too hard.  Be patient, and take breaks if needed.

    1. Stretching: Stretching can also help ease the muscle cramp and prevent further cramping.  Stretching and massage can be alternated to relax the muscle.


  1. Heat: Heat also increases blood flow to the affected area. An Epsom salt bath is especially beneficial since Epsom salts contain magnesium, which is known for relaxing muscles.

Electrolyte Deficits

Some medical professionals are not convinced that dehydration or electrolyte deficits cause muscle cramps.  They argue that there are no studies linking dehydration or electrolyte losses and an increased tendency for muscle cramping.

Other medical professionals, however, point out that—with or without studies—muscle cramps happen!  And they tend to occur more often when athletes are overworked, fatigued, dehydrated and have electrolyte losses.

So, what should you do with these conflicting opinions?

Stay hydrated with a beverage that includes electrolytes!

There is no question that your body needs water and electrolytes.  Electrolytes are minerals that break down into electrically charged particles called ions when they are dissolved in water.  Water serves as a conductor, allowing the ions to move.  Electrolytes regulate your body’s fluids, help maintain the pH balance of your blood, and create the electrical impulses needed for your body to perform all of its functions, including lifting weights.

Worst case scenario, drinking a beverage with electrolytes will have no effect on your tendency to develop muscle cramps.  Best case scenario, it may ward off these cramps.  Either way, your body will perform better with a healthy electrolyte balance.

How can I prevent muscle cramps?

Both types of muscle cramps may be minimized through —

  1. Regular Stretching: Keeping muscles loose and flexible will help prevent them from tightening up and cramping.
  2. Easing Into a Training Program: Give your muscles a chance to adjust to any increases in weight, volume and intensity by adjusting just one element at a time. For instance, if you decide to add an extra thirty minutes to your daily training sessions, don’t simultaneously increase the weight and volume on all of your lifts.
  3. Eating a Healthy Diet: There are seven major electrolytes—sodium, chloride, potassium magnesium, calcium, phosphate, and bicarbonate.  These electrolytes are found in a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.  An electrolyte replacement beverage can also be used to replenish electrolytes lost during sweaty training sessions.

Final Points of Consideration—

  1. Muscle cramps can occur spontaneously, even with the best prevention. Don’t get frustrated when they happen.
  2. If muscle cramps happen frequently, are severe or don’t improve over time, consult a doctor.



(1) Muscle Cramps (

(2) Does Creatine Cause Muscle Cramps? (

(3) What Causes Muscle Cramps And Shortcuts For Muscle Cramp Relief!(

(4) Muscle Cramps during Exercise: Is It Fatigue or Electrolyte Deficit? (

(5) Significant and serious dehydration does not affect skeletal muscle cramp threshold frequency (

(6) Three percent hypohydration does not affect threshold frequency of electrically induced cramps (

(7) Massage Solutions for Muscle Cramps (

(8) Electrolytes 101 (

(9) What Are Electrolytes… And Why Are They So Important? (

8 Squat Workouts Away from Home

Youth Weightlifting Squat Workouts

On vacation some people relax and take a break from training.  And some people search frantically for a barbell, not wanting to miss any training opportunities.  If you’re reading this, you probably belong to the second group.  Good news . . . I’ve got you covered.

Here are 8 non-barbell squat workouts that can be done just about anywhere.


When traveling, it is hard to find a barbell and free weights.  Most hotels/resorts/campgrounds/cruise ships just don’t have these things.  However, many places do have dumbbells or kettle bells.  Don’t turn up your nose and walk away!   Use them.  Here are 4 squat possibilities if you can find some weight.

Q: How much weight should you use?

A: Use something heavy.  The last rep in each set should feel very challenging.


If you have absolutely no access to weights, consider these 4 options:


In addition to being great vacation workouts, these workouts can be used

  • As “finishers” after any weightlifting workout
  • Between strength building programs to increase speed and explosiveness in the squat
  • As quick workouts if you only have a little time
  • As early morning workouts if you want to add a little “extra” to your training

Youth Weightlifting in Germany

Youth Weightlifting in Germany

Three years ago, my family moved from the United States to Germany. As soon as we arrived, we sought out the local weightlifting club. Weightlifting is what we love to do, and we wanted to jump right into the weightlifting scene in Germany. It took us a couple of attempts, but we finally connected with the coaches at a nearby athletic club, AC Kindsbach. Like most weightlifting clubs, AC Kindsbach is a small club that is only open for a couple of hours each evening.

Upon meeting the coaches, my first question was, “Do you coach weightlifting?” The coach, Ernst Shäfer, responded, “Yes. I was a World Champion in 1988.” Good enough. My next question was, “How much do you charge?” Ernst responded, “Twenty-four euros.” Twenty-four euros is about $26. Per week? Per session? Ernst clarified, “Per Year.” Per YEAR?! I knew we had found our club.

Then, I asked, “Will you coach my son?” At the time, my son was only 10-years old, and I knew that many weightlifting coaches would not be interested in coaching someone so young. Another coach, Marco Walz, who was standing nearby, said, “I will coach him.” Little did I know that Hutch was Marco’s first athlete. I was just pleased that my son had a coach!

And thus began our adventure in German youth weightlifting . . .

Over the years, we learned the ins and outs of the system. Youth weightlifting is quite different in Germany than in the United States. In Germany, a stronger emphasis is placed on overall athletic development and building technical proficiency with the barbell. This is reflected in the competitions.

Up to age 16, weightlifters in Germany participate in a two-part competition, which includes Athletics and Weightlifting.


Each competition includes four athletic events that contribute to an athlete’s overall score. In most competitions, these events are:

Ball Throw: Athletes throw a weighted ball (2kg to 5kg) behind them. Points are awarded according to how far the ball travels. Athletes are given
two attempts to throw the ball as far as they can. This exercise trains explosive hip extension.

Video of Ball Throw










Triple Jump: Athletes begin standing still and jump three consecutive times. Points are awarded according to how far the athlete jumps. This exercise trains hip extension and leg strength.



Toes to Bar: Athletes begin hanging from a bar. They must bring their toes to the bar as many times as possible without swinging. This exercise trains core strength and flexibility.


Sprints: Athletes sprint in a pattern, touching an object 5 meters, 10 meters and then 5 meters away. This exercise trains speed and explosiveness.

Video of Sprint


There are always four athletic events in the competition. However, the events are not always the same.

For instance, at the 2016 German Youth Nationals the triple jump was swapped out for a vertical jump. At the 2017 South German Championships, pushups were substituted for toes to bar.



Technique Points: German weightlifting uses a ten-point system to award points for technique. Referees in youth competitions must know how to score according to this system, deducting points and partial points for deviations from correct technique.

A very good lift receives a score of about 7.0. Here is an example of a lift that received a 7.0.

Video of 7.0 Lift

An outstanding lift may receive a score of 9.0. Here is an example of a lift that received a 9.0. I have never seen a score higher than 9.0 awarded in a competition.

Video of 9.0 Lift

Weight on Barbell: An athlete’s weightlifting score is determined by multiplying the technique points by the weight on the barbell. So, the actual amount of weight lifted DOES matter. However, it is not the only thing that matters.

All of this might be interesting, but why does it matter for youth weightlifters in the United States?

Consider the following . . . What are the benefits of Germany’s Youth Weightlifting System?

  • Well-Rounded Approach: The German system requires youth weightlifters to develop overall athleticism. By testing a variety of skills, the system takes some of the focus off of training with the barbell and places it on exercises that will benefit a mature weightlifter.
  • Technique Development: Awarding technique points gives coaches and youth lifters an incentive to polish technique, rather than just focus on strength building. “It [also] allows kids who cannot lift as heavy to compete against more seasoned lifters,” explains John Attilo, head of Youth Weightlifting in Rhineland-Pfalz, Germany. “It motivates kids and coaches to pursue the best technique possible.”
  • Gentler on Young Athletes: I watched a five year-old compete in his first competition.  He had a noticeable press-out on the snatch.  But . . . he was five.  Rather than giving the child a red light and sending him away in tears, the judge gave him a white light and just deducted points for poor technique.

Could the German system be implemented in the United States?  Maybe Not . . .

  • No Standardized System for Technique: It would be very difficult to implement the German system in the United States. The United States does not have a standardized system of weightlifting technique. Each coach teaches the technical methods he or she prefers. Without a standardized system, it would be impossible to score lifts for technique.
  • Overhaul of Referee Training: Currently, USA Weightlifting trains referees to spot errors that would disqualify a lift, such as a press out in the jerk, or rolling the bar up the arms in the clean. It would require much more training to teach referees to discern smaller points of technique, such as yanking the bar off the ground or lifting the hips too early in the snatch.

Maybe So . . .

  • Cutting Edge: Since Phil Andrews became CEO of USA Weightlifting, the organization has transformed from a small, dated sport to a vibrant presence on the world stage. Over the past few years, USA Weightlifting has implemented athlete stipends, athlete development camps, and other tools geared specifically toward producing more elite weightlifters. Clearly, USA Weightlifting is not afraid to tackle big changes in pursuit of a better program.

If the United States did adopt a youth program similar to that in Germany, benefits could include:

  • Greater Longevity in the Sport: Burnout is a big issue in youth weightlifting. Many talented youth weightlifters never reach their full potential because they quit too early. Perhaps one reason for this is that weightlifting training is repetitive and involves only a handful of movements: clean, jerk, snatch, pulls, presses, and squats. Broadening the spectrum of exercises to include ball throwing, sprinting, jumping, etc., could keep kids interested in the sport for longer. Plus, these exercises are fun for kids.
  • Improved Coaching: U.S.A. Weightlifting could contribute to better coaching through standardized technique. Due to the recent increased popularity of youth weightlifting, many new and relatively inexperienced coaches are training kids. The upside is that new talent is constantly entering the sport, increasing the potential number of elite weightlifters. The downside is that these new coaches could use some guidance. A standardized system of technique could provide this.

Three Generations of Champions — An Interview with Nils Engbarth

Youth Weightlifting Nils Engbarth Interview - Pic 1

Weightlifters in Germany typically belong to teams sponsored by the athletic clubs in their cities or villages.  A team can consist of lifters of different ages, genders, and weight classes.  Competitions occur on Saturdays, when two teams compete against each other for a win. Lifters earn points according to how much weight they lift per their body weight.  Competitions are referred to as “fights,” and attract crowds, who often pay for admission.  Weightlifters are paid by the athletic clubs for their competition performances.

Nils Engbarth, age 16, lifts for the AC Kindsbach/Rodalben weightlifting team in Rhineland Pfalz, Germany.  Nils has been weightlifting since age 14 and is trained by his grandfather, Ernst Schäfer, 1988 World Champion weightlifter, and his father, a former German National Champion weightlifter.

Q: How old were you when you started weightlifting?

A: I began weightlifting when I was 14.

Q: How often do you train?

A: I train 3 to 4 times per week, for about 2 hours each session.

Q: What is your best accomplishment in weightlifting?

A: I am the current Southwest German Champion.  I also received Best Youth Weightlifter at this competition.  I am also a member of the Rhineland Pfalz Youth Team.  This year I will compete at the German National Championship, and hopefully I will win.

Q: Who is your favorite weightlifter?

A: Max Lang.  Max lifts for the Chemnitz athletic club, and I got to see him lift recently at a competition against another club.  He is an amazing lifter.

Q: What advice would you give to a beginning weightlifter?

A: Don’t get disappointed if your technique isn’t the best at the beginning.  Keep working and never give up.  If weightlifting is your passion, give it 110%.

Q: What do you like to do when you are not weightlifting?

A: I like to meet friends and play American football.

Understanding USA Weightlifting’s Stipend System

Youth Weightlifting USAW Stipend - Chart 1

In 2016, USA Weightlifting created a stipend program to support its elite athletes. The payments are intended to offset the training and competition expenses of athletes who may represent the USA in international competitions, with the intent of increasing the number of medals won at the World Championships and the Olympic Games.

USAW offers two options for stipends:

1. Percentage Program: If a youth athlete accomplishes a total that is within 85% of the Bronze medal average at the Olympic Games & World Championships, the athlete can re-ceive a stipend of $1500 per month.

2. Incentive Payment Program: If a youth athlete accomplishes a qualifying total (see chart below) at a qualifying event, the athlete can receive a stipend between $50 and $150 per month.

Please note, an athlete can only receive funding under one of the two programs at a time.

The system, however, is somewhat complicated to follow. Use this flowchart to see if you are eligible for some of the support that USAW is currently offering.

In the Shoes of an Olympian

Youth Weightlifting Abby Flickner Interview

Abby Flickner, of Shawnee Kansas is your typical 13-year old girl. She loves to read, play the trumpet, and train in weightlifting shoes given to her by Olympian Morghan King. Ok, Abby is not so typical. She has been weightlifting since she was six-years old, has her own athletic clothing line, and holds three Youth American Records. Here is a glimpse into her life . . .

Q: How did you get started in weightlifting?

A: My older brother had been weightlifting for a while, and I thought it would help me get stronger for gymnastics. Eventually, I gave up my other sports—gymnastics, softball, and volleyball to focus exclusively on weightlifting.

Q: What do you enjoy most about weightlifting?

A: Weightlifting offers some good life lessons. If you don’t focus on your lift, it won’t be very good. Similarly, if you don’t focus on homework, you won’t get a good grade. And if you don’t focus on the task at hand, you won’t succeed.

Q: What does your training schedule look like?

A: I train two hours per day, six days a week with my coach, Boris Urman, at Bootcamp Fitness.

Q: What one or two things do you do in training that are particularly impactful?

A: Squats and lower back training! It’s easy to get a heavy barbell off the floor, but you have to have strong legs and a strong core to stand up with it.

Q: What do you carry around in your gym bag that has nothing to do with weightlifting?

A: Candy

Q: What is your diet like?

A: I try to eat as much as I can to move up a weight class. I eat lots of protein, fruit and veggies. I usually eat two suppers, one before gym and one after. I also like to eat candy!

Q: Who do you look up to in the sport?

A: Morghan King. She accomplished a lot in a very short amount of time, and she has been supportive of my lifting. She gave me the shoes I wear in training!

Q: What qualities does a great coach possess?

A: A great coach isn’t afraid to tell you what you’ve done wrong. Weight-lifting can be a dangerous sport if you don’t do it correctly.

Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

A: Don’t worry about what weight is on the bar . . . just lift it.

Q: Did you take this advice?

A: I try, but it’s hard not to think about the weight.

Q: When you are not weightlifting, how do you spend your free time?

A: I like to read, ride my bike and play the trumpet. I would also like to learn how to cook.

Q: When was the last time you were knocked down and how did you get back up?

A: Youth Nationals in 2016. It was the first time I had been beaten in three years. I’m still in the process of recovering, but I’ve made progress.

Q: What have you learned from weightlifting that helps you in other parts of your life?

A: Anything you want to achieve requires hard work and a good mindset.

Q: Where does your strength come from?

A: Some of it comes naturally, but mostly it comes from training hard.