Creating Champions: The Garage Strength Way

Dane Miller, owner of Garage Strength in Pennsylvania, coaches some of the most successful young weightlifters in the United States today.  Miller’s athletes have claimed national and international weightlifting medals and include members of USA Weightlifting’s Junior National Team.  Five of Miller’s athletes were on Team USA’s 20-person team at the 2017 Junior World Championships in Tokyo.  Miller’s athletes have stunning resumes, including:

  • Hailey Reichardt: Bronze medal winner at the 2016 Youth World Weightlifting Championships and silver medalist at the 2017 Junior Pan American Championships
  • Jordan Wissinger: 2017 Junior Pan American Championship, silver medal in snatch, bronze medals in clean and jerk and total
  • Jacob Horst: 2016 Senior National Weightlifting Champion
  • Juliana Rotto: 5th place at the 2016 American Open, 5th place at 2016 Junior National Championship
  • Kate Wehr: member of Team USA’s 2017 Youth Pan American Squad

If a coach has a single successful athlete, he is a lucky coach.  If a coach has an entire team of successful athletes, he is doing something right.

What is the secret to Miller’s phenomenal success?  

First consider a few things . . .

  • Coach Miller was never a competitive weightlifter himself.  Miller was a skilled collegiate shot putter and lifted weights as part of his training, but he did not enter the world of competitive weightlifting until one of his athletes expressed interest in competing in the sport.
  • Garage Strength is located in one of the poorest areas of the U.S.  With 41.3 percent of its residents living below the poverty line, Reading, Pa., is the poorest U.S. city with a population of 65,000 or more.  So, Miller’s athletes do not come from privileged backgrounds.
  • Miller only began training competitive weightlifters five years ago.  In 2012, one of Miller’s athletes expressed interest in lifting weights competitively.  Miller jumped in with both feet and helped this athlete achieve success, securing a spot on an international team within only 1 year.

Given Miller’s disadvantages, how has he been so successful in developing his athletes?

  1. Miller only trains athletes that are “all in.”  Miller was a champion thrower himself, and he wants to train athletes that are serious about success.  To ensure that he and his athletes are working toward the same goals, Miller has frequent conversations with them.  If athletes are unsure about what they want, Miller encourages them to take some time off to think about it.  Once an athlete commits, Miller expects them to work hard to achieve their goals.
  2. Miller respects the goals of his athletes.  Miller trains weightlifters, throwers, and wrestlers.  He wants to train hardworking athletes with big dreams.  However, Miller does not try to convert all of his athletes into weightlifters.  Instead, Miller listens to his athletes and provides them with the best training to reach their goals.  Even if an athlete has the potential to become a great weightlifter, if the athlete has no passion for the sport, Miller knows it is better for the athlete to pursue another sport.
  3. Miller provides his athletes with the tools they need to succeed.  Miller knows that athletic success involves more than training.  He educates his athletes on all matters related to their sport.  He teaches them about recovery, mobility, and good nutrition.  When Miller can’t find a good tool for his athletes, he creates one.  In fact, Miller created Earth Fed Muscle, a line of nutritional supplements, for his own athletes.  Miller noticed that many protein powders on the market contained ingredients that could flag his athletes during drug tests.  He wanted a pure product that he could trust.  So he made one.

    Earth Fed Muscle has become popular amongst weightlifters, including youth weightlifters such as CJ Cummings and Harrison Maurus.
  4. Miller is a mentor for his athletes.  According to Miller: “It’s not just about lifting; it’s about what you’re going to do or be after you’re done.  I want to make champions, but I also want to make people who will positively impact society in other ways.”  Miller recounts mistakes he made in his own career and wishes that he had someone to guide him during his difficult years.  Miller tries to be that mentor for his athletes.

How can you apply some of Miller’s methods to your athletes?

  • Talk to your athletes.  Instead of telling your athletes what they should be achieving, ask them what they want to achieve.  You might be surprised by their answers.  And you’ll definitely create more motivated athletes when the athletes feel like they are pursuing their goals and not yours.
  • Treat each athlete as an individual.  It takes more work to deliver individualized programming and education.  However, your athletes will perform better when they have tools that are tailored to them.
  • Constantly search for the best resources for your athletes.  Remember that success is more than just time spent in the gym.  Research the best recovery methods, nutrition, and mobility exercises for your athletes.  If you don’t have expertise on a topic, find someone who does.
  • Be the coach you wish you had.  Think of the attributes of the best coaches—the coaches you wish you had—and strive to be like them.

 

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5 Benefits of Training Backwards

The athletes of Lift for Life weightlifting club in St. Louis, Missouri, enter the gym and head straight to the squat rack to begin their training.

Wait, what?!  Squats first?

Traditional weightlifting training progresses from the most complex movements—the clean and jerk and the snatch—to less complex movements.  A typical training session in any weightlifting gym might look like this:

The idea is that putting the most complex movements up front allows an athlete to tackle them fresh, without the fatigue that comes with strength building exercises.  Coach Jimmy Duke, head coach of Lift for Life Gym in St. Louis, Missouri, however, turns the traditional model on its head and trains his athletes backwards.  Duke begins his training sessions with squats, progresses into a skill transfer exercise, such as the Snatch Grip Push Press, works into a barbell complex, and finishes with the Olympic lifts.

Coach Duke has produced three international level youth weightlifters—from scratch—in a mere five years, making his training style worth considering.  Here are five benefits of “training backwards.”

 

Uses Training Time Efficiently.  Coach Duke trains most of his athletes for only one hour, three times a week.  To fit the training into the hour, Duke must make wise time management decisions.  It takes less time to warm-up for a set of squats than a set of clean and jerks. Once the legs are warm, the athlete can jump straight into the squats.  The same holds true for warming up the shoulders and back.  Once the athlete arrives at the Olympic lifts by the end of the training session, the central nervous system has been activated and all of the muscle groups are nicely warmed up.

 

Focuses on Positioning.  “Place your feet closer together; shoulders over the bar; gaze neutral; shoulder blades back; tighten up your back; now lift the bar off the ground keeping the back tight; stay over the bar . . . longer, longer, longer; now explode!”  It’s a lot to teach and even more to remember.  Any coach knows how easy it is to reduce a confident athlete into a confused mess by giving too many cues at once.  A coach can remedy this problem by beginning the training session with the component lifts, focusing on positioning in each of the parts before tackling the full Olympic lifts.

 

Intensifies Training without Adding Extra Weight.  Placing the Olympic lifts after strength building exercises makes them harder to perform.  An athlete must fully focus—and even then—the lifts will be difficult because the muscles are already fatigued.  In this way, a coach can challenge an athlete mentally and physically without adding extra weight to the barbell.  This preserves an athlete’s joints and builds mental and physical toughness.

 

 

Makes the Olympic Lifts easier to perform in competition.  Duke’s athletes are conditioned to squatting, pressing, and deadlifting BEFORE they get to the Olympic lifts.  In competition, however, the athletes get to perform the Olympic lifts without doing a training session first.  Athletes are pleasantly surprised by their performances at competitions.

 

Makes the Lifts a Treat at the End of Practice.  Most weightlifters would agree that performing a snatch is more exciting than performing a set of back squats.  Coach Duke makes his athletes work for the privilege of performing the Olympic lifts.  Once the athletes have put in time building strength, Duke rewards them with the more exciting lifts.  No dessert until you eat your broccoli—or in Duke’s case, “No clean and jerks until you finish your strength work.”

 

Not ready to commit to a full schedule change?

If you are intrigued by Coach Duke’s training style but not willing to completely ditch your methods, try reversing your training one day a week.  It will shake up the regular routine and encourage new muscle adaptations.

Photos by Lifting.Life.

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Elle Hatamiya – September 2017 Featured Athlete

Please let us introduce you to our featured athlete for the month of September: Elle Hatamiya.  Besides being an Instagram sensation, Elle is an amazing athlete (in weightlifting as well as dojo and gymnastics).  Elle is currently 12 years old and competes in the 35kg class.

Where is home?

 Albany, California

When did you get started in this sport
I started lifting when I was 10. 
What (or who) got you started?
My mom does CrossFit so then I started doing CrossFit, but I liked the Olympic-style lifts more so I started just training and competing in weightlifting.
What do you enjoy most about weightlifting?

I like the feeling of doing the lifts.

What does your current training routine look like (hours per day, days per week, where you train, who you train with)?
I train at my barbell club, Endgame Athletics, twice per week for an hour each time. I have private sessions with my brother, Jude, who trains CrossFit with our coach, Arnold Chua.  I also train with my gymnastics team, Golden Bear Gymnastics Academy, 22 hours per week over 4 days.  And, I  train at my martial arts dojo twice per week for an hour each time. Our style is called Cuong Nhu.
Even though I train 26 hours per week, I still go to regular public school, so everything happens after school and on Saturday.  I have Sundays off, unless I have a competition, because all of my training locations are closed on Sundays.
What one or two things do you currently do in your training that has been impactful?
I do a lot of power snatches and power cleans to get stronger and faster. 
What do you carry around with you in your gym bag that has nothing to do with weightlifting?
Nothing
What is your diet like?
I mostly eat food that my mom cooks:  organic as much as possible, grassfed meat, lots of fruit.  I prefer not to eat processed foods.  For breakfast, I typically have an egg, fruit, and milk. I bring lunch to school; mostly leftovers.  After school, on my way to training, I have a good snack that usually includes protein, fruit, and maybe rice.  After training, I eat a home cooked dinner.  If it’s not home cooked, it could be a burrito or sushi–something that’s relatively easy to start eating in the car.
Who do you look up to in the sport?  Why
I look up to Sarah Robles because she medaled in the Olympics. I also look up to C.J. Cummings and Harrison Maurus because they are kids but they are really strong. 
What friendships has this sport brought your way?
I get to meet lots of people at camps and competitions. I also get lots of supporters around the world though my Instagram. 
Are you coachable?
Yes
What qualities do great coaches possess
They are supportive, they believe in you, they push you, and they listen to you. 
What is the best advice you’ve ever received? Did you take it?

Do what you love. Yes, I took it.

What characteristics do you strive for (on and off the platform)
Caring, calm, modest, confident. 
If you gave everything that you owned away except three things, what would you keep?
Notebook, pencil, and clothes.
When you have random free time, how do you spend it?
I make slime or origami or I play with my brother, Jude, who is 2 years younger than me. 
If you could master anything (besides weightlifting), what would it be?

 I am also a gymnast, so it would be gymnastics.

What have you learned from weightlifting that helps you in other parts of your life?
I have mental toughness and I can perfect my technique.
The last time you were knocked down (or discouraged) in this sport, how did you get back up?
At Youth Nationals I missed my first lift, but I didn’t let that discourage me or get to me; I just moved on from it and I made the rest of my lifts. 
What is the question no one has ever asked you that you’ve always wanted to answer?

 I don’t know.

What are you most grateful for?

I am grateful I have a family that supports me, I live in a good place, and I get to do what I love. 

Where does your strength come from?

 I just keep working hard and pushing myself.