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.