Preparing for College Weightlifting

If you love weightlifting as a youth athlete, you may want to continue the sport in college.  Vance Newgard, head coach of the weightlifting program at the Northern Michigan University Olympic Training Site, offers some advice for preparing for life as a college weightlifter:

Northern Michigan University weightlifter, Bret Pfeiffer, caught Coach Newgard’s attention as a 12-year old lifter.

Get Noticed.  The easiest way to get noticed as a weightlifter is to perform well at competitions.  However, competition results are not the only thing weightlifting coaches consider when evaluating potential team members.

Q: I am new to weightlifting but have a strong athletic background.  Will college weightlifting coaches be interested in me?

A: Yes!  According to Coach Newgard, general athleticism and a strong commitment to weightlifting are just as important as high rankings within the sport.  

Says Newgard:

The most successful college weightlifters are not necessarily the kids with years of experience.  General strength training is extremely important.  Athletes should come in with a solid strength base, good work capacity and explosive power, which can be developed through general physical preparation.

Reach Out.  Write letters or emails to team coaches.  Let them know of your interest and accomplishments.  Team coaches can give you specific details of their programs and any available financial assistance.  They may also invite you to visit to meet them and view their programs first-hand.  Says Newgard:

I want an athlete to want to work with me.  I invite them to visit for a day or two and do a couple of one-on-one workouts.  Usually once I do that, they are really interested.  They see the value that the coach can add.

From my point of view as a coach, if I don’t get to know the athlete, I can’t tell if the athlete will be a problem.  It is good for both the athlete and the coach to see if they will work together.

Colleges that currently offer financial assistance for athletes in their weightlifting programs include:

Northern Michigan University: US Olympic Education Center 

Louisiana State University at Shreveport: High Performance & Development Center

Lindenwood University

East Tennessee State University

Brewton-Parker College *

* Newgard will initiate a new weightlifting program at Brewton-Parker College in Fall 2018.

Other colleges with club programs may not offer financial assistance, but they could be a good option depending on your school preferences.

Prepare Mentally.  Being a collegiate athlete is a part-time job.  Between training, mobility, sports medicine, and nutrition, a college weightlifter may easily spend 20 hours per week devoted to the sport.

According to Coach Newgard, the biggest mistake new collegiate weightlifters make is underestimating the time commitment required:

If you are going to do a sport in college, you have to passionate about it because it is your job.  You have two part time jobs—academics and your sport.  You have to commit.  It is not a physical thing; it is a mental thing for most people.  It will be difficult.  You have to really want to do it.

Q: Can I still be a collegiate weightlifter if I have a job in college? 

A: Yes.  Coaches understand that athletes have different circumstances and will try to work around them.  

In Newgard’s case:  

I take an individualized approach.  I understand that not everyone is on a full ride scholarship.  A kid might have to work, go to school, and train.  I treat all of my athletes as individuals and try to help them succeed with their circumstances. 

Prepare Physically: Experience in competitive weightlifting will help you get noticed and may help you get a scholarship.  However, general physical preparation is just as important.  Says Newgard:

Early specialization in weightlifting is not necessary for success at the college level.  I would rather see an athlete who has a strong base of general strength and athleticism than an athlete who is mentally and physically beat up after years in the sport.

As a youth weightlifter, step away from the barbell occasionally and develop athleticism in other areas: run, jump, throw, climb, push, pull, and walk on your hands.  It is fun, and it will improve your athletic abilities.

Develop Good Habits Now: College students are notorious for staying up late studying or partying.  With no parents around to impose curfews, students can easily fall into a reckless routine of overnighters.  These sleepless nights will manifest in the weight room with decreased focus and performance.  Practice good time management skills now to set yourself up for success in college.  Says Newgard:

I expect my athletes to go in a different direction that the rest of the student population.  They have to go in thinking, “I am a student athlete,” and make decisions that support this commitment.  Part of this commitment is getting enough sleep, eating enough, and showing up to training sessions.

Be coachable:  Every coach does things a little differently.  Your college coach will be no exception.  Even if you have been weightlifting for years, drop the attitude and trust your new coach.  It is his job to help you succeed in weightlifting, and he will do that if you let him.  Says Newgard:

If you have doubts about your college weightlifting coach, you probably shouldn’t join that program.  Once you commit, be coachable.  Communicate with your coach if an exercise isn’t working or is causing you pain.  Communication is key to a good coach-athlete relationship.

Feature photo courtesy of Lifting.Life.



Feature Athlete: Destiny Snider

Destiny Snider is our latest featured athlete!  Destiny is a 14-year old weightlifter from St. Louis, Missouri who currently competes in the 44 kg weight class.   Destiny won the championship title in the 44-kg weight class (14-15 age group) at USA Weightlifting’s 2018 Youth Nationals in Grand Rapids, Michigan in June 2018.

When did you get started in this sport? Who got you started?

I got started in weightlifting at Lift for Life Gym.  Coach Jimmy saw me playing basketball one day and asked me if I wanted to start weightlifting.  I worked out with him a couple times, and I fell in love with it!

What do you enjoy most about weightlifting?

Weightlifting is great because you can test how strong you are everyday.  I also have met so many great people through weightlifting.  Most of my best friends are weightlifters.  My sister (NeNe) is on the team as well.  I know people from all over the country because of weightlifting.  I have meet many of the clients at the Lab Gym, where we train.  There are tons of people there that congratulate me on my accomplishments while I’m walking though the gym.

What does your current training routine look like (hours per day, days per week, where you train, who you train with)?

I train at the Lab Gym 2 hours a day, on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

What one or two things do you currently do in your training that has been impactful?

We have always pushed squats really hard, but recently, we added dead lifts.  That has really helped.  Also, before the Junior Nationals, I was only training one hour on Tuesday and Thursday.  Since I qualified as an alternate to the Youth Pan Ams, Jimmy told me it was time to get more training in per week.  So we added two hours during the week.

What are your proudest weightlifting achievements?

My proudest moment in weightlifting is setting an American Record in the Snatch at Youth Nationals last year.

What is your diet like?

My diet is normal.  I drink a lot more water now.

Who do you look up to in the sport?  Why?

Jerome Smith is a good role model for me.  He is good to talk to, and he is there for me when I need anything or feel down or if I’m having a bad day of training.

What qualities do great coaches possess?

The best quality from a coach is motivation.  When its time to get real, they help me get real!

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice I have ever received is, “Don’t think too hard.”  Sometimes I put too much pressure on myself to be successful and I make simple mistakes.

What characteristics do you strive for–on and off the platform?

When I’m on the platform, I am ready to kick some butt and pass people up to make it to my dream.  Off the platform, I try not to take things too serious, especially if they are not serious things.

When you have random free time, how do you spend it?

When I have free time, I like to spend it with my friends, both gaming and at gatherings. I find it very important to maintain a good social life.

If you could master anything (besides weightlifting), what would it be?

I love playing basketball at Lift for Life Gym.  If I could master anything else besides weightlifting, it would be basketball.

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

Weightlifting has taught me that things do not always go right in life, but you have to get up and start over.  You don’t always have a team that can help you or someone looking out for you.  Sometimes you got to do it yourself!

What are your weightlifting goals?

My goal is to continue to make International Teams.  I want to stay in the sport and hopefully make the Olympics one day in both Weightlifting and Basketball.




Should I Coach My Own Child?

Parents choose to coach their children in sports for a number of reasons:

  1. No one else will do it.
  2. The parent is the most qualified person available to coach.
  3. The parent wants to spend quality time with his or her child while enjoying the sport.

All three are valid reasons for coaching your own child in weightlifting.  However, before you take on the mantle of Coach, consider these bits advice from veteran parent-coach, Troy Pfeiffer, father of Northern Michigan University weightlifter, Bret Pfeiffer.

Bret began lifting at age 8 to build strength for football. Within a week, he decided to pursue competitive weightlifting. Photo credit: Journal Gazette & Times Courier

Be a Coach in the Weight Room.  A coach-athlete relationship is different from a parent-child relationship.  An athlete must respect the coach and trust his guidance.  In the weight room, there is no room for backtalk or whining.  If necessary, make a contract with your child about what is expected in the weight room.  Says Pfieffer,

Bret and I had a contract.  When we were in the weight room, he called me Coach.  I treated him like my athlete and not my son.  When we left the weight room, we hugged and went back to being father and son.

Make Your Child Feel Comfortable in the Weight Room.  Weightlifting takes discipline and focus, but there is also a lot of downtime, waiting for the muscles to recover between sets.  Use this time to get to know your child.  Find out what motivates him and what he finds funny or interesting.  Pfeiffer says,

You’ve got to make your kid feel comfortable in the weight room.  If he’s comfortable, you will get more out of him.

Find Out What Works for Your Child.  Every athlete is different.  What works for one athlete may not work for your child.  Don’t spend too much time focused on what other people are doing.  Find out what works for your child and do that.  Says Pfieffer:

I trained Bret with Bulgarian methods.  We worked at high percentages and didn’t taper for competitions.  Bret performed really well this way.  Recently, Bret tried a taper going into a competition.  It did not go well for him.  Some people thrive on the taper week, and some people are built for constant motion.

Bret was a five time U.S. Youth National Champion, one time Junior National Champion, and represented the U.S. on international teams at the Pan American Sports Festival in Mexico City, the 15 & Under International Championship in Colorado Springs, the Manual Suarez Championship in Cuba, and the Youth Pan American Games in Guatemala.

Be Flexible.  The best part about coaching your own child is the flexibility it offers.  If your child has a party or school dance he wants to attend, just move training to a different time of day or day of the week.  Pfeiffer says,

As long as there is a balance, you can work around other things in your child’s life.  Plus, taking a day off won’t kill them.  It freshens up their mind and body.

Don’t Push Too Hard.  As as parent, you want the best for your child.  Plus, you have more control over your child’s life than the average coach.  You can determine the foods your child eats, when he goes to bed, when he practices, etc.  The combination of control and desire for excellence can be detrimental if taken to extremes.  Pfeiffer advises:

Look at your child’s training from a coach’s perspective.  Don’t push too hard.  You’ll end up pushing your child out of the sport instead of up.

Educate Yourself.  When Pfeiffer began coaching, there were not many resources available to new coaches.  Pfeiffer gained the knowledge he needed by talking to more experienced coaches.  Says Pfeiffer:

Ask questions.  Pick the brains of other athletes and coaches.  Most people in weightlifting will sit and talk with you.

Other more recent opportunities for education include:

Coaching your child can be a fabulous bonding experience.  Set up some rules for working together, take opportunities to educate yourself, don’t push too hard, and enjoy the journey the two of you take together.

Photo credit: Lifting.Life