USA Weightlifting held a technique training seminar on Friday, June 22, in conjunction with the 2017 National Youth Championships. The seminar featured youth world record holder, Harrison Maurus, Maurus’s coach, Kevin Simons, Pyrros Dimas, and Tamas Feher. The big names drew a large crowd of athletes, parents and coaches. Tamas Feher led the seminar, explaining the correct progression for teaching the Olympic lifts. Pyrros Dimas offered supporting comments, and Maurus demonstrated the movements. Simons, however, remained silent in the background.
While the seminar offered nuggets of good information, it was not what the audience expected. The audience expected to hear Kevin Simons speak about coaching Harrison Maurus. In six short years, Simons introduced Maurus to the sport of weightlifting and helped him achieve a new youth world record. This is a phenomenal accomplishment, and the audience wanted to hear the secrets of this success. I caught up with Simons after the seminar and gathered the information the audience missed:
Q: Kevin, I expected you to speak about training Harrison at this seminar. What happened?
Simons: I was prepared to speak about training Harrison and my other athletes. However, the opportunity did not arise.
Q: I think many people would be interested in hearing your thoughts. What were you prepared to say at the seminar?
Simons: I was going to speak about my history with Harrison and how I train my athletes. I take coaching very seriously, and I am always happy to share my methods with other athletes and coaches. I feel that my methods are working—Harrison currently holds a youth world record as well as multiple American records. Also, three of my eight athletes took first place medals here at the 2017 Youth Nationals.
Q: What is your history with Harrison?
Simons: I started out as Harrison’s gymnastics coach. Harrison was a good gymnast, but he was not a perfect fit for the sport. I knew that Harrison had great potential as an athlete, though, and I wanted to help him develop this potential. I am a competitive CrossFit athlete, and I started teaching Harrison weightlifting. First, we experimented with powerlifting. Then, we decided to try the Olympic lifts. In fact, Harrison was the first athlete I ever taught to do a snatch or clean and jerk. Harrison was a natural, and we have been together ever since. It has been amazing to grow with him as a coach and to travel the world together.
At the 2017 Youth World Championships in Bangkok in April 2017, 17 year-old Maurus (77kg) claimed a new youth world record with a 192kg clean and jerk. Maurus finished 2nd overall in the snatch, 1st in the clean and jerk, and 1st in the total.
Q: What makes your coaching different than other weightlifting coaches?
Simons: I want my kids to be well-rounded, healthy athletes, not just good weightlifters. In addition to teaching weightlifting movements, I teach my athletes how to eat properly and rest to maximize their performance. I also teach them exercises that will benefit their overall athleticism, and not just their weightlifting abilities.
Q: What do you tell your athletes about eating?
Simons: I begin with the basics. I teach my athletes what a balanced meal should look like. Each meal should include some protein, carbohydrates, and fat. A portion of protein should be about the size of the palm of your hand. A portion of carbohydrates should fit within a cupped hand. A portion of fat should be about the size of your thumb. If an athlete needs to cut weight, about 50% of the diet should be vegetables. If an athlete does not need to cut weight, only about 25% of the diet needs to be vegetables. I try to keep things simple so that my athletes can easily implement healthy eating into their lives. Good nutrition is very important to athletic performance, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.
In specific situations, I work with my athletes to develop tailored meal plans. Also, I encourage my new athletes to weigh and measure their foods for a couple of weeks until they understand the proper portion sizes for their bodies.
Q: You mentioned using non-weightlifting exercises in your training. Why do you do this?
Simons: I am a big advocate of GPP (general physical preparedness). I want my weightlifters, especially the younger ones, to be exposed to a variety of movements. Until about age 12, kids should be involved in a variety of sports and doing a variety of movements. They should be running, jumping, lifting, pulling, climbing, throwing, tumbling—doing things to develop their bodies generally. Of course they can also be learning the competitive lifts, but this should not be the primary focus. Around age 12 or 13, those kids who decide to lift competitively can begin a more structured weightlifting program. However, GPP is still important for competitive weightlifters.
Q: What GPP exercises do you use?
Simons: I use a variety of movements. I especially like pulling exercises like rope climbs, sled pulls, strict muscle ups, and peg boards to develop the shoulders. Some of my female athletes can perform 6+ consecutive legless rope climbs. I feel that this accessory work gives my athletes an edge when it comes to overhead movements. Their shoulders are very strong.
Q: What does your weightlifting training look like?
Simons: My beginner lifters do a lot of drills emphasizing position and movement. I reinforce movement patterns through a large number of reps and sets. I require lifters to consistently perform the movements properly before I allow them to move on to higher weights. I also include a lot of jumping exercises and plenty of GPP.
Q: What about your advanced lifters?
Simons: When a lifter has developed the muscle memory to consistently perform the snatch and clean and jerk well, I allow them to add more weight. I don’t limit the weight as long as the lifter can demonstrate good form. However, I do limit the number of attempts my lifters make above 90%. My lifters are youth lifters, which means that they should have long weightlifting careers in front of them if they don’t get injured. I do not allow my athletes to train through an injury, so the best course of action for everyone is to prevent injuries from happening. We save singles and max out attempts for competitions and the weeks leading up to a competition. We work mostly in sets of 2 or 3 reps, which allows the lifters to build strength without over-stressing the joints.
Q: Do your elite level lifters receive extra training or advice?
Simons: Of course. As lifters approach the senior level, different issues arise, such as overtraining. It becomes necessary to fine tune nutrition, recovery, and training. Periodization in training becomes more important.
Q: You mentioned that you don’t allow your lifters to go over 90% very often. At what percentage do you normally train?
Simons: I don’t specify percentages in daily training. Youth weightlifters are developing strength so quickly that percentages are not generally helpful. What could be a weightlifter’s max one month could be their 75% the next. I find it more helpful to specify a starting weight for each lifter. I allow the lifter to add weight with each subsequent set, as their technique allows. If a lifter’s technique breaks down, the lifter is not allowed to go up in weight.
This approach sets my weightlifters up for success in competition. Since my lifters are always required to lift with good technique, they do not make many misses in training. In fact, Harrison went three years without missing a clean. Because my lifters practice making their lifts—not missing their lifts—they go into each competition lift expecting success. And usually, they are successful.
Q: How often do your lifters compete?
Simons: I limit the number of competitions we attend. All of my lifters love to compete, but competitions break up the training schedule. Each competition requires a ramp-up period and a recovery period, which takes away from building strength. My athletes perform better—physically and mentally—when we take on a smaller number of competitions.
Q: What advice would you give to other coaches who are trying to develop youth weightlifting programs?
Simons: Seek out “feeder” opportunities. For instance, I work with a gymnastics center, offering strength and conditioning training to competitive gymnasts. Some of these gymnasts fall in love with weightlifting and become members of my team. It is also good if you can create training partnerships—a pair of athletes that can push each other. Harrison works with a 105+ lifter who pushes him to lift heavier weights. Also, it is great if you can create a positive competitive atmosphere. Create opportunities for kids to compete against each other daily in the gym.
Q: What are your personal goals as a coach?
Simons: I want to become the best weightlifting coach in America.
With his attention to detail and dedication to his athletes, Simons is well on his way to achieving his goal.