Preparing for Youth Nationals

Youth Weightlifting Preparing for Youth Nationals - Pic 1

After preparing my son for five USA Weightlifting Youth Nationals, I have become an expert—not because I have done so many things right, but because I have done SO. MANY. THINGS. WRONG.  Let me spare you the agony of my mistakes—

Daytona Beach.  The mere mention of this city sends shivers down my spine.  Daytona Beach is home to beautiful beaches, a world-renowned race track, and one of my worst nightmares.

It all began when my son, Hutch, qualified for the 2014 Youth National Weightlifting competition.  Hutch had worked hard, and we were excited to travel to Daytona for his first big competition.  In planning the trip, I knew I would be traveling with all three of my children, so I wanted to make the trip as cost-effective as possible.  With the competition on Friday morning, I purchased tickets for a Thursday flight.  I didn’t want to arrive too early—that would mean more money spent on rental cars, hotel rooms, and food.

Due to a flight delay, our plane arrived in Daytona Beach at 9:00 PM.  By the time we got our rental car and drove to our hotel, it was 10:30 PM.  I arrived at the hotel to discover that our discount accommodations were shared by a number of partygoers loudly enjoying the beach outside the hotel.  We were exhausted, however, and attempted to sleep through the night.

Hutch’s weigh-in was from 7:00 to 8:00 AM.  To allow the kids to sleep as long as possible, I set the alarm for 6:00 AM.  At 6:30, we zipped through the hotel breakfast buffet, and left the hotel to drive to the venue, which was a mere 15 minutes away according to the Google Maps directions I had printed off.  Unfortunately, I turned the wrong direction out of the parking lot and didn’t realize my mistake until I had driven 30 minutes—in the wrong direction!

When I finally stopped to ask for directions, a kind man explained that I was about an hour away from my destination and that I could not possibly make it by 8:00.  I had an ungraceful panic attack, which was witnessed by my children, who then started crying because they were scared by my reaction.  I quickly turned the car around and sped to the venue, possibly breaking a few traffic laws along the way.

As I approached the venue, I still couldn’t locate it.  The competition was at a school that was tucked away in a residential setting.  After several frantic phone calls to Hutch’s coach, I located the venue.  I sped to the curb, yanked Hutch out of the car and ran to the weigh-in.  I then realized that we had left his identification documents in the car . . . back to the car.  Hutch made the weigh-in cut-off by SIXTY SECONDS.

I heaved a sigh of relief and handed Hutch his breakfast, which consisted of some muffins we had brought from the hotel’s breakfast buffet.  Minutes later, Hutch’s coach called him into the warm-up area to begin warming-up.  Breakfast would have to wait.

As Hutch walked back to the warm-up area, he asked me to get his gym bag out of the car.  I looked.  I couldn’t find it.  In our haste to leave the hotel, we had left his bag—complete with singlet and shoes—in the breakfast room at the hotel.  Hutch entered the warm-up area wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and Crocs.  I sped back to the hotel for his bag.

Fortunately, the story ended well.  I was able to retrieve the bag, and Hutch strapped on his weightlifting shoes just moments before walking onto the platform for introductions.

From this experience, I learned a few things that will make your experience much less stressful:


  • Arrive 24 hours early. Arriving 24-hours early—not the night before—will give you time to acclimate to the city and find the things you need.


  • Stay in one of the event hotels. USAW contracts with hotels to provide a discount rate and transportation, when necessary, to the venue.  You’ll be less likely to get lost traveling to the venue if you stay in one of the event hotels.  Plus, you’ll be more likely to have considerate neighbors when it is time to sleep.
  •  Visit the venue the day prior. Actually travel to the venue so that you know exactly where everything is located—the weigh-ins, the warm-up area, and the platforms.


  • Check weight on the scales. You might be surprised to learn that your home bathroom scale is not that accurate.  Do a pre-weigh on the official “check scales” the day prior to avoid unpleasant surprises on competition day.


  • Put your important documents where you’ll remember them.  You will need identification at weigh-ins (a passport or birth certificate).  Don’t leave home without one of these!


  • Pack extra everything: socks, underwear, singlets, shoes . . . okay, I realize most people don’t own extra weightlifting shoes, but pack extra of everything else if you have them.


  • Know your child. Bring any comfort items your child needs in competition.  For instance, your child may have a favorite pair of socks or a favorite candy bar or he may need headphones to block out the noise of the other competitors.  Make advance preparations for these things.


  • Plan your meals. Before you arrive at Nationals, have a plan for the food your child will eat.  You don’t want to spoil your child’s hard work by sending him onto the platform fueled with greasy pizza from dinner and “whatever was on the hotel breakfast buffet.”  Bring foods that will help your child perform well.


  • Arrive early to the weigh-in. Weigh-in times are an exact component of the competition.  If weigh-ins begin at 8:00 and end at 9:00, with lifting beginning at 10:00, you will not be allowed to compete if you show up to weigh in at 9:01.

NOTE: Arriving early will ease your stress levels, but it will not put you at the front of the line for weigh-ins.  Names are called from a list.  However, if you are not present when your name is called, you will go to the “back of the line” and weigh-in after the rest of the lifters who were present.


  • Feed your child as soon as the weigh-in is complete. There are only two hours between the beginning of the weigh-in and the start of the weightlifting session.  Eating early allows food to settle before warm-ups begin.


  • Don’t  feed your child too much. Your child will be hungry after potentially skipping a meal before weigh-ins.  Provide some healthy foods that your child likes, but resist the urge to “make up” for the lost meal.  There will be time for a big meal after the competition.


  • Bring some sugar.   I said it.  Normally I’m not a fan of sugary drinks and candy.  However, they do offer an energy boost during a competition.  Just don’t overdo it.  One sports drink and two or three miniature candy bars are plenty.


  • Relax! Children can sense your emotions and will mirror them.  If you are anxious, your child will get stressed, too.



  • Turn your child over to the coach and take a seat. You child and coach have worked hard to get to this point.  Don’t send confusing signals by trying to co-coach your child during the competition—unless you are also your child’s coach!


  • Be proud. Your child has worked hard to get to this competition.  Regardless  of the results, take lots of pictures and let your child know you are proud of them.

Finally, don’t worry if it’s not perfect.  As hard as you prepare, something unexpected will always arise.  Fortunately, kids are resilient and can perform well, even in adverse circumstances.  After all of the mayhem in Daytona Beach, Hutch still pulled out an outstanding performance and managed three national records and a first place finish.  Thank goodness for good coaching (Boris Urman) and miracles!





Programming for Youth Weightlifters

When it comes to youth weightlifting, the first question people ask is:

Is weightlifting safe for children?

The next question is:

How do you program for youth weightlifters?

I answered the safety question in another article.  I have not written on the second question until now, however, because it is complicated.

A weightlifting program is not like a cookie cutter.  It yields good results when used by the athlete for whom it was designed.  When used by another athlete, however, results will vary.  For instance, a youth weightlifter with 3 years of experience will be able to handle more volume and intensity because this lifter has already spent time learning technique and building strength that will support such training.  A beginner who tries to follow the plan of an established athlete is setting himself up for frustration and overtraining injuries.

However, when you are just beginning, something is better than nothing.

The 8-week plan below should get you started—or give you new ideas to incorporate into your current training.

But first, a few words on programming for youth weightlifters . . .

The good news is that programming for youth weightlifters is very similar to programming for adults.  The sport of weightlifting is the same whether you are nine or eighty-nine, which means that the sport specific training is also the same.

However, there are a few differences:

  • General Athleticism: In addition to weightlifting specific exercises, a youth program should incorporate movements that develop overall athleticism.  As a coach, you want to build strong, healthy kids—not athletes with a single skill set.  Kids have time on their side.  They do not need to lift huge amounts of weight at age 10.  Rather, they need to build a strong foundation—core strength, balance, flexibility—elements that will set them up to lift heavy weights as their bodies develop.
  • Fun: Kids like to laugh and play.  If your program is boring, kids will quit.  Having fun does not mean goofing off in the weight room.  It means incorporating challenges and games regularly.
  • Percentages: Most weightlifting programs work by applying percentages to a lifter’s one rep max.  Percentages are less useful for youth lifters, however, because these athletes are constantly growing and developing.  Basing work off a one rep max might leave a youth lifter working well below his capabilities, or it might injure a lifter who is not conditioned to the programmed percentages.  A better approach is to watch your athlete and add weight if they reps are not challenging.  For this reason, the weightlifting plan below prescribes only reps and sets; weights are left up to the coach.  Choose something challenging.  Record the weights used each day, and you will soon discover the best loads for your athlete.
  • Age and Training Age: Consider the age and maturity of your lifter when designing a program.  Younger lifters will have a smaller attention span and will need shorter sessions. Attempting a three-hour training session with an eight-year old will be miserable for both of you.  Similarly, the training age of a lifter matters.  A teenage lifter with 2+ years of experience can handle significantly more volume and intensity than a teenage lifter with no experience.
  • Technique: Practice does not make perfect.  Practice makes permanent.  Every single repetition of a lift builds muscle memory.  If your lifter’s technique falls apart when you increase the weight, take the lifter back down in weight until the technique is fixed.  Your athlete will be mad about this, but he will thank you later in life when his lifts look sharp and his technique allows him to lift efficiently.
  • Positivity.  Keep things positive by giving encouragement and praise liberally.  Children are very sensitive to criticism.  You can make or break a champion by how you speak to your athlete.
  • Misses:  Practice making lifts, not missing them.  A miss on a lift once in a while is fine.  It is part of the sport.  Remember, however, that when an athlete misses a lift, it changes the way he perceives that weight.  An athlete who misses a certain weight repeatedly will develop a mental block at that weight.  Remove this obstacle by limiting max effort attempts.

And now for the fun stuff . . .


8 Week Program

Training Sessions Per Week: 3
Program Duration: 8 Weeks
Time to Complete Each Session: 1.5 hours

Written as Reps x Sets
Sets Programmed are Working Sets and do not include Warm Up Sets
Week 1
Day 1
Snatch: 4 reps x 3 sets
Jerk: 4 x 3
Snatch Pull: 4 x 4
Back Squat: 6 x 3

Core: 30 second plank hold, 30 seconds rest (5 Rounds); hold an increasingly heavy weighted object on the back each interval (e.g. 1st interval with no weight, 2nd with 2.5 kg plate, etc.)
Day 2
Clean & Jerk: 3 x 4
Clean Pull: 5 x 3
Push Press: 5 x 3
Front Squat: 5 x 5

Conditioning: Set up a circuit of objects to jump over; perform the circuit 3 times
Day 3
Snatch High Pull: 3 x 4
Power Snatch + Overhead Squat: 3 x 5
Strict Press: 3 x 3

Core: Using furniture sliders under the feet, perform a series of Inchworms across the floor, i.e. start in an upright position, bend at the waist and walk the hands out to a plank position, finish by dragging the feet to the hands
Week 2
Day 1
Snatch: 4 reps x 3 sets
Jerk: 4 x 3
Snatch Pull: 4 x 3
Back Squat: 5 x 4

Conditioning: Perform air squats to the song “Flower” by Moby. When Sally goes down, sit down in the squat and vice versa.
Day 2
Clean & Jerk: 3 x 4
Clean Pull: 5 x 3
Power Jerk: 4 x 2
Front Squat: 5 x 4

Core: Using a standard deck of cards, deal out 5 cards.
Diamonds = Sit Ups
Hearts = Good Mornings
Spades = Russian Twists
Clubs = Kettle Bell Swings

The suit on the card indicates the exercise, and the number indicates the reps. (Ignore face cards.)
Repeat 3 times
Day 3
Power Clean + F. Squat + Jerk: 2 x 5
Deadlifts (no shrug): 3 x 3

—7 Rounds—
Push Ups and Pull Ups

Before each round, roll a dice. The number on the dice indicates the number of reps for each movement that round.
Week 3
Day 1
Snatch: 3 reps x 4 sets
Jerk: 3 x 4
Snatch Pull: 4 x 3
Back Squat: 5 x 3

Core: Plank Races
Using furniture sliders on the feet, race across the room in a plank position (hands will be pulling feet). Alternative exercise: Wheelbarrow Racing
Day 2
Clean & Jerk: 3 x 3
Clean Pull: 4 x 3
Push Press: 5 x 2
Front Squat: 5 x 3

Conditioning: 5 minutes to establish max continuous reps with a jump rope
Day 3
Muscle Snatch: 3 x 3
Snatch Pull + Snatch: 3 x 4
Dumbbell Press: 5 x 5

Core: Weighted plank hold. Hold a weight on back in the the plank position. Hold for 40 seconds, rest for 20 seconds. 5 Rounds.
Week 4
Day 1
Snatch: 3 reps x 4 sets
Jerk: 3 x 4
Snatch Pull: 3 x 4
Back Squat: 4 x 4

—5 Rounds—
Box Jumps
Kettle Bell Swings
Sit Ups

Roll a dice before each round. The number on the dice indicates the number of reps of each movement for that round.
Day 2
Clean & Jerk: 3 x 3
Clean Pull: 4 x 3
Power Jerk: 3 x 4
Front Squat: 4 x 4

Core: TABATA Russian Twists

Work 0:20, Rest 0:10 for 8 intervals. Score = lowest number of reps in any interval
Day 3
Hang Clean + 2 Jerks: 2 x 4
Clean Pull with 3-second hold at top of shrug: 3 x 4
Push Press: 3 x 3

Conditioning: Shuttle Sprints

Set up three objects at varying distances from the starting line. The athlete must touch each object, returning to the starting line between touches.
Week 5
Day 1
Snatch: 3 reps x 3 sets
Jerk: 3 x 3
Snatch Pull: 3 x 4
Back Squat: 4 x 3

Core: Cut up 6 pieces of paper and number them 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30. Fold the papers and put them in a cup.

Athlete selects a piece of paper. The first paper indicates the number of reps of the first movement. After that movement is completed, the athlete continues to draw numbers until all exercises are completed:

Toes to Bar
Kettle Bell Swings
Russian Twists
Sit Ups
Push Ups
Day 2
Clean & Jerk: 3 x 3
Clean Pull: 3 x 4
Push Press: 4 x 3
Front Squat: 4 x 3

Conditioning: Using a standard deck of cards, deal out 5 cards.
Diamonds = Box Jumps
Hearts = Pull Ups
Spades = Lunges
Clubs = Dips (using bench)

The suit on the card indicates the exercise, and the number indicates the reps. (Ignore face cards.)
Repeat 3 times.
Day 3
Hang Snatch: 3 x 4
Snatch Grip Deadlifts: 3 x 3

Strict Press: 3 x 3

Core: 100 Partner Ball Sit Ups.

Two people do sit ups facing each other. They pass a weighted ball after each sit up. So, an athlete will be holding the ball every other sit up. The ball must touch the ground above the head of the athlete doing the sit up.
Week 6
Day 1
Snatch: 3 reps x 3 sets
Jerk: 3 x 3
Snatch Pull: 3 x 3
Back Squat: 3 x 4

Conditioning: Partner Workout
Partner A: Holds weight plate above head
Partner B: Lunges

One partner lunges while the other partner stands with a weight plate overhead. The workout is done when the partners accumulate 200 lunges. Partners switch as needed. The weight plate cannot touch the ground or there is a 5 burpee penalty.
Day 2
Clean & Jerk: 2 x 3
Clean Pull: 3 x 4
Power Jerk: 3 x 3
Front Squat: 3 x 4

Core: Handstand Walking or Hand Stands

For beginner athletes, hold a handstand for 20 seconds and rest for 20 seconds, for 8 rounds.

For advanced athletes, do four 50-foot handstand walks, with about 3 minutes rest between attempts.
Day 3
Clean + 2 F. Squat + Jerk: 2 x 4
Deadlifts (no shrug): 3 x 3
Handstand Pushups: 3 Max Effort Sets

Conditioning: TABATA Squat Jumps (air squat, then jump)

Work 0:20, Rest 0:10 for 8 intervals. Score = lowest number of reps in any interval
Week 7
Day 1
Snatch: 2 reps x 3 sets
Jerk: 2 x 3
Snatch Pull: 3 x 3
Back Squat: 3 x 3

Core: Do planks to the song “Flower” by Moby. When Sally goes down, plank with elbows on the ground. When Sally goes up, plank with hands on the ground. The athlete will be in a plank during the entire song.
Day 2
Clean & Jerk: 2 x 3
Clean Pull: 3 x 3
Push Press: 3 x 3
Front Squat: 3 x 3

Conditioning: 100 Kettle Bell Swings. Every minute after the first minute, the athlete must stop and perform 12 sit ups before resuming the kettle bell swings. The workout ends when the athlete completes all 100 swings.
Day 3
Snatch High Pull: 3 x 3
Power Snatch + Overhead Squat: 3 x 5
Seated Strict Press: 3 Max Effort Sets

Core: Using a standard deck of cards, deal out 5 cards.
Diamonds = Push Ups
Hearts = V Ups
Spades = Mountain Climbers
Clubs = Toes to Bar

The suit on the card indicates the exercise, and the number indicates the reps. (Ignore face cards.)
Repeat 3 times.
Week 8
Day 1
Snatch: 2 reps x 3 sets
Jerk: 2 x 3
Snatch Pull: 2 x 3
Back Squat: 2 x 3
Mobility: Stretch
Day 2
Clean & Jerk: 2 x 2
Clean Pull: 3 x 2
Power Jerk: 2 x 3
Front Squat: 2 x 3
Mobility: Stretch
Day 3
Power Clean + F. Squat + Jerk: 2 x 5
Russian Deadlifts: 5 x 5
Dumbbell Press: 5 x 5
Mobility: Stretch



























The Mind of an Olympian: An Interview with Hidilyn Diaz

If I had to pick one word to describe three-time Olympian, Hidilyn Diaz, I would choose “gracious.”  Hidilyn is visiting Guam for the week, and she agreed to let me interview her before her weightlifting practice.  Unfortunately, I didn’t think things through very well, and I ended up conducting the interview while sitting on some tires behind the gym.  The music in the gym was very loud, and all of the seats were occupied by active weightlifters, so we headed out the back door.  I scanned the area for a suitable sitting surface and hastily decided that some tires lying on the ground would do just fine.  I sat down, and Hidilyn joined me without hesitation.

Hidilyn’s unassuming attitude became all the more impressive once I learned more about her.

Hidilyn (pronounced Heidi Lynn), age 26, has competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 2012 London Olympics, and the 2016 Rio Olympics.  At age 17, Hidilyn was the youngest competitor in the women’s 58-kg weight class at the 2008 Bejing Olympics.  And in 2016, Hidilyn became the first Filipino woman to ever win an Olympic medal when she earned a silver medal in Rio.

Hidilyn Diaz (image from

Hidilyn began weightlifting at age 11.  Her cousin, a university student, was coaching a group of young boys in weightlifting.  Hidilyn asked to join them, and her cousin began training her.  She began competing soon after and was offered a place on the Philippine national team at age 12. Membership on the national team offered a number of perks.  Hidilyn received a scholarship to attend school.  She was able to travel and see the world when she competed.  Most importantly, though, she was able to help provide for her family with her monthly stipend of 4000 Pesos (about $80).

Hidilyn explained: “My family was poor.  I lifted weights to provide for my family.  I was the breadwinner.”

I asked Hidilyn when she developed a passion for weightlifting.  I was surprised when she said, “2014.”  By 2014, Hidilyn had already been in the sport for 12 years and competed in two Olympic Games!

Hidilyn explained, “2014 was a difficult year for me.  I injured my knee, and recovery was taking a long time.  My performance suffered.  My coach of ten years was fired from the national team, and I felt lost.  I was injured, had no coach, and was beginning to wonder if I should just retire.”

“Mentally, it was very difficult.  I had no one guiding me, and I had to decide for myself if weightlifting was what I wanted to do.”

After taking time to reflect, Hidilyn decided to continue her training and aim for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.  A friend pointed out that Hidilyn could contend for a medal if she dropped into the 53-kg weight class.  Hidilyn made the weight drop, trained hard, and secured a silver medal in Rio becoming the first Filipino in 20 years to win an Olympic medal.

Hidilyn continues to train for four hours a day, while simultaneously attending college to earn a degree in business.  She hopes to make a fourth Olympic appearance at the 2020 Games in Tokyo.

In the future, Hidilyn wants to own her own business.  She also wants to raise awareness of weightlifting in the Philippines, serve as a mentor to younger weightlifters, and use her experience to help other coaches develop their weightlifters.  Consider these points of advice from Hidilyn:

To Coaches:

“It is important to spend time on mobility as well as general strength and conditioning.”  Focusing only on weightlifting exercises can lead to injuries, boredom and burnout.

Also, “Always look for ways to innovate.  Constantly seek new ways to challenge your athletes and keep things interesting for them. “

To Youth Weightlifters:

“Enjoy weightlifting first.  Then, dream high.  It is the dream that will fuel you.  You also need to work hard, but be smart.  Sometimes weightlifters work hard, but it is not productive because they are not getting enough rest.  You need to rest.  Take advice from others.  Practice self-discipline and consistency in training.  One of the hardest things about weightlifting training is being consistent.”

Advice on Competing:

“Above all, you must believe in yourself.  When you step onto the platform, if you do not believe that you can lift the weight, it will not happen.”



Picking Up Metal: Youth Weightlifting in the Philippines

This is Lovely, an accomplished 13-year old Filipino weightlifter.  She has won numerous championship titles, including the Philippine youth national championship.  Lovely trains with Team Angono six days a week, 2 hours a day.  She is currently on the waiting list for the Philippine national team.

This is Lovely’s home.


I watched out the van window as a toddler played with a broken pink headband and a dirty toy gorilla under the overpass of a crowded Manila highway. A teenage boy, possibly his brother, sat nearby transferring bottles from one plastic bag to another. As we continued our drive, I spotted more and more street children—sleeping on the sidewalk, begging for money between lanes of slow moving traffic, selling handmade flower necklaces. These children—filthy, barefoot and unattended—jolted me out of my self-absorbed reality and sobered my thoughts.

My son, Hutch, and I had traveled to Manila in the Philippines for the Metro Weightlifting Championship held on December 16. Prior to seeing these children, I was thinking about how I was going to lose a kilogram of bodyweight in the next 24 hours. After seeing the children, though, my weight loss concerns were forgotten. Who cares about bodyweight when there are children—children—on the streets barely surviving?

It is not right. It is not okay. Children should be in school. They should be spending their free time playing sports or games. They should not be struggling for survival, without adequate clothing and nutritious food to eat. Someone should do something about this.

This photograph, featured in the U.K.’s Daily Mail, shows a girl scavenging for metal and other recyclable materials in a garbage dumpsite in Manila. Many children in Manila help support their families with this activity.

A few days later, I met Coach Pep . . .

Coach Richard “Pep” Agosto is a former member of the Philippine National Weightlifting Team. Pep was an accomplished weightlifter, medaling in numerous international competitions, including the Southeast Asian Games. While Pep was still on the national team, he witnessed the extreme poverty of children in his neighborhood and started a program to give them a better life through weightlifting.

Pep identified some neighborhood children who were scavenging in the dump and asked if they would like to train with him instead.  Pep offered to pay for the kids’ schooling and feed them if they would train with him each day.  The children’s parents initially refused Pep’s offer because it meant less money for their families.  However, Pep convinced the parents that weightlifting and school were investments in the children’s futures.

While in Manila, I had the privilege of meeting Coach Pep and his weightlifting team.

When we arrived at Pep’s gym, a small, covered outdoor area next to his house, Pep’s weightlifters greeted us with smiles. The weightlifters, ranging in age from 9-18, were eager to show off their skills.

Given the children’s impoverished circumstances, I expected very little from them athletically. I was surprised. Pep’s weightlifters are powerful and technically polished. They rival any youth weightlifters I have seen in the United States or Germany.


Pep’s lifters have won numerous competitions in the Philippines, including the national championship, and have set new national records for their age groups. Two of his lifters are even on the waiting list to join the national team. Membership on the national team will open new doors of privilege, giving the kids better training opportunities and a generous monthly stipend.

More importantly, though, Pep’s training gives the kids a path to escape from their impoverished circumstances. When possible, they travel to competitions and see the world outside of their neighborhood. Pep’s program also gives them the opportunity to go to school, a privilege that is not afforded to all children in the Philippines. It is giving the kids tools to make better lives for themselves.

Training is a luxury most Filipino kids cannot afford. Training means less money for the children’s families since the kids are not spending time earning money for the family. To compensate the families for the loss of money, Pep feeds the children and pays for them to go to school. In return, they train every day with Coach Pep. They are especially motivated to show up to training because it means they get two meals that day, instead of the single meal they would receive at home.

How does Pep do It?

In the United States, a coach like Pep would have social resources to help him with his program. In the Philippines, however, these resources are not available.

Pep funds the entire program with money he personally earns as a member of the Philippine Air Force and with donations from private sponsors. Pep also spends long hours coaching weightlifting at CrossFit gyms to earn money for his kids.

One of Coach Pep’s lifters lives here.
Another of Coach Pep’s lifters lives here.

Talking to Pep, I could feel the strain it puts on him to feed, clothe, and educate twelve children—the nine children on the team, along with his own three children. Pep was proud that he had kept the program open for three whole years, but I could sense his concern with the long-term success of the program.

“I take on as much extra work as I can find to provide for my lifters,” said Coach Pep.  “I coach weightlifting at CrossFit gyms, at seminars and to an adult class on Saturdays.  Everything I earn goes to supporting my lifters.”

It is a daily struggle for Pep to provide for his lifters. Without outside benefactors, Pep’s program cannot survive.

How Much Does It Cost to Sponsor a Lifter?

It costs Coach Pep about $55 per month to send each lifter to school and feed them.

How Can I Donate to Coach Pep’s Project?

If you—or your weightlifting team—would like to make a donation to Coach Pep’s lifters, click below.

Your donation will change the life of a child. It will offer a child who would otherwise be picking through trash in a dump to have the luxury of going to school and training. Your donation will allow a child who would otherwise have one meal a day to have two meals. And your donation will go directly to Coach Pep and his kids—no collection agencies.

How Much Protein Do Youth Weightlifters Need?

All weightlifters want to build more muscle, and building muscle requires protein.

But just how much protein is appropriate for a youth weightlifter?

According to Dr. Mark Lavallee, Chairman of the USA Weightlifting Sports Medicine Society, youth weightlifters should consume each day:

1 to 2 Grams of Protein per Kilogram of Lean Body Mass

Lean Body Mass is the amount of weight you carry on your body that is not fat.

Lean Body Mass = Body Weight – Body Fat

Written another way:

Lean Body Mass = Body Weight – (Body Weight x Body Fat %)

To determine your lean muscle mass, you must first know your body fat %.

How do you calculate body fat percentage?

There are several methods for calculating body fat.  Three of the most popular are:

Body Fat Scales

Body fat scales measure body composition by sending small electrical currents through the body.

Body fat scales use Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA).  A small, harmless electrical current passes through the body.  The current passes slower through fat and quicker through muscle.  The machine measures body density and then uses this reading to calculate a body fat percentage.

Are body fat scales accurate?  Not really.  Factors such as body type, body temperature, hydration, recent exercise, or even sweaty feet can produce inaccurate readings.

Skin Fold Calipers

Body fat can also be measured using a skin fold caliper.  Skin fold calipers are devices that measure the thickness of a fold of skin along with the underlying layer of fat.  A trained professional can measure your body fat, or you can attempt the process yourself with an online tutorial such as this one.

Are calipers accurate?  If administered properly, skin fold calipers can yield very accurate results.

Hydrostatic Weighing

One of the most accurate methods for determining body fat is the Bod Pod, which uses air displacement to measure body mass, volume and density.  This method is accurate but can be expensive at around $75 per session.

Other methods for determining body fat include taking measurements (not very accurate), water displacement (accurate, but hard to find and expensive), and DEXA scanning (accurate, but expensive at about $125 per session).

Lean Body Mass Calculator

Once you know your body fat, you can calculate your lean body mass

Lean Body Mass = Body Weight – (Body Weight x Body Fat %)


Body Weight = 45 kg    Body Fat % = 15%

Lean Body Mass = 45 – (45 x 0.15)

Lean Body Mass = 38.25 kg

If math is not your thing, you can use this this easy calculator created by to determine your lean body mass.

Protein Requirements

Now that you know your lean body mass in kilograms, strive to eat 1 to 2 times that in grams of protein each day.

For example,

An athlete who weighs 45 kg with a body fat of 15% would have a lean muscle mass of about 38 kg.

This athlete’s daily protein requirements would be 38g to 76g of protein.

Alert!  The body can only use a certain amount of protein for muscle building activities at a time.  So, it is wise to split up protein consumption throughout the day.

Here is a sample meal plan for this athlete—


For more tips on optimizing your athletic performance, read Health Mistakes Youth Weightlifters Make.



Body Fat Scales: Do They Really Work?” / Fitness. Accessed November 26, 2017.

How To Measure Your Body Fat % Using Calipers.” Muscle & Strength. November 22, 2017. Accessed November 26, 2017.

Health Mistakes Youth Weightlifters Make

Do you get injured often?  Are you struggling to make new gains?  Do you just want an edge over the competition?

I spoke recently with Dr. Mark Lavallee, Chairman of the USA Weightlifting Sports Medicine Society, about health mistakes youth weightlifters make.

Boost your performance by fixing these mistakes!

Mistake #1: Not Enough Sleep

Did you know that LeBron James sleeps 12 hours a night?

And did you know that while training for the Olympic Games, Micheal Phelps slept 8 hours a night with a 2-3 hour nap in the afternoon?

Embed from Getty Images

In fact, Phelps said that sleep and training were equally critical to his success.  In an interview with CNBC, Phelps explained,

Sleep is “where you can naturally grow and your body recovers.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep:

  •  Allows the body to heal and repair itself
  •  Boosts muscle mass
  •  Supports growth and development
  •  Helps maintain a healthy balance of hormones
  •  Strengthens the immune system

How much sleep should you be getting?

According to Dr. Lavallee,

Youth athletes under 9th grade should be getting 10 hours of sleep for peak performance.  After 9th grade, athletes should sleep at least 8-9 hours.

Here are some tips for getting better sleep:

Photo credit: Don Lindsay
  • Remove electronic devices from your room—televisions, iPads, phones—all of it.  It is too tempting to stay up and play games, browse, or watch shows.  Plus, blue light exposure from electrical screens reduces melatonin release making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Make your room dark and cool.  Light slows the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep.  Also, body temperature naturally drops when you fall asleep, so cooling the room can jumpstart the process.
  • Avoid caffeine.  Caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake when you are trying to sleep.
  • Go to bed and wake up around the same time each day.  Sticking to a schedule helps regulate your body’s clock and can help you go to sleep faster and stay asleep longer.
  • If you train early in the morning, try to take a nap during the day.  A 20-30 minute nap can improve alertness and performance without interfering with nighttime sleep.

Mistake #2: Lack of Cross Training

Photo Credit: Unit 22 CrossFit

Single-sport specialization can lead to overuse injuries.  Cross training offers a solution to this problem.  Cross training is simply varying your fitness program to include different activities.

What does this mean for a weightlifter?

Mix things up!  Incorporate calisthenics, sprinting, stretching, throwing, and core work into practices.  Step away from the barbell occasionally to work on balance, flexibility, and yes . . . that loathed exercise called running.

Dr. Lavallee recalls:

I have seen weightlifters get winded from climbing a flight of stairs with their gym bag prior to a competition.  Athletes—including weightlifters—should have some level of endurance and overall athleticism.


Mistake #3: Using Supplements as Substitutes for Good Nutrition

Two oranges contain 168 mg of vitamin C.  A vitamin supplement containing the same amount of vitamin C should provide an equal benefit, right?


Your body absorbs more of the vitamin C in the oranges than in the supplement because oranges contain co-enzymes, which are molecules that help the body to absorb the vitamins in the orange. Plus, the orange contains fiber and minerals that the supplement won’t have.  The same is true for all fruits and vegetables.

Dr. Lavallee further warns:

Just because a food is labeled all natural does not mean that it contains co-enzymes.

When it comes to good nutrition, real food is always the best solution.

Reserve supplements, such as protein powders, protein bars, and vitamins for times when other foods are not available.  Do not use them as primary sources of nutrition.

Mistake #4: Haphazard Protein Consumption

This 72-oz. steak is served at the Big Texan Steakhouse in Amarillo, Texas.

Your body needs protein to build and maintain muscle, but did you know that your body can only use about 30g of protein for muscle building at a time?

A study by the Journal of the American Dietetic Association entitled “Moderating the portion size of a protein-rich meal improves anabolic efficiency in young and elderly” found:

  • A 30g serving of protein increased muscle building activities by about 50% (over fasting) in the subjects studied.
  • A 90g serving of protein—representative of the serving sizes of restaurant meals—did not produce any more muscle building activities.
  • Eating more than 30g of protein in a single meal does not result in further muscle building activities.

So, if muscle building is your goal, you will be better off spreading out your protein consumption throughout the day.

Dr. Lavallee and his family make protein a priority in their family meals.  They spend Sunday afternoons preparing protein-rich meals, such as chicken soup or beans and rice with steak.  Throughout the week, as life gets busy, the Lavellees have healthy, homemade, protein-packed meals ready-to-eat.

NOTE: If you consume more than 30g of protein in a meal, your body will still use that protein, but it will not necessarily go toward muscle building.  The body will break down the excess protein and convert it into glucose to use as energy or store the excess as fat.

Mistake #5: Poor Dietary Habits

Photo credit

If you are like most weightlifters, you clean up your diet prior to a competition and then indulge in a junk food feast afterward.

While a single day of bad eating probably won’t hurt you, Dr. Lavallee advises you to examine your daily habits:

Do you regularly eat junk food and then crash diet before competitions?

If you are a heavyweight lifter, do you eat junk food just because you can?

Even if you are in one of the “plus” weight classes, remember that food is FUEL.  If you are fueling your body with Cheetos and Oreos, you can’t expect to make big gains.

Plus, crash diets can harm you in the long run.  Consider the dangers of crash dieting cited on

Rapid weight loss can . . .

  • Slow your metabolism, leading to future weight gain
  • Deprive your body of essential nutrients
  • Weaken your immune system
  • Increase your risk of dehydration, heart palpitations and cardiac stress.


Mistake #6: Not Enough Balance in Life

Photo Credit: Rich Egger

Do you feel like you live at the gym?  Are you sacrificing every school dance, campout, religious activity, and social event in favor of practice time?  Have you given up all other hobbies, sports and activities for weightlifting?

If so, you are setting yourself up for burnout and unhealthy levels of stress.

Dr. Lavallee further points out:

If you spend all of your time weightlifting, you will never know whether you are a musical virtuoso.  Perhaps you are a gifted guitar player or singer.  Take time to develop other talents and explore new things.

Talk to your coach.  Work out a schedule that allows you to take at least 2 days off per week.

And during those two days, forget about weightlifting and enjoy the other things that life has to offer!



Clifford, Catherine. “Olympic hero Michael Phelps says the secret to his success is one most people overlook.” CNBC. February 14, 2017. Accessed November 08, 2017.

Pickering, Craig. “Sleep and Athlete: Time to Wake to the Need for Sleep.” Freelap USA. April 26, 2016. Accessed November 08, 2017.

Why Is Sleep Important?” National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. June 07, 2017. Accessed November 08, 2017.

Cross Training-OrthoInfo – AAOS. October 01, 2011. Accessed November 08, 2017.

Symons, T. Brock, Melinda Sheffield-Moore, Robert R. Wolfe, and Douglas Paddon-Jones. “Moderating the portion size of a protein-rich meal improves anabolic efficiency in young and elderly.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association. September 01, 2009. Accessed November 08, 2017.

How Much Protein Can the Body Absorb?” Quick and Dirty Tips. July 16, 2015. Accessed November 08, 2017.

Miller, Bryan. “How crash diets harm your health.” CNN. April 20, 2010. Accessed November 08, 2017.




Cultivating New Talent

C.J. Cummings’ coach, Ray Jones, shares his formula for identifying and creating successful youth lifters.

Step 1: Assess Commitment

For two weeks, Coach Jones limits his new athletes to bodyweight and core exercises. This period is all about attendance. Teaching weightlifting technique is time consuming, and Jones wants to invest his efforts into athletes who are serious about showing up to practice.

Step 2: Assess Abilities

During the two week trial period, Coach Jones observes how the athlete’s body moves. He has the athlete do overhead squats with a broomstick or PVC pipe to check flexibility. He also tests balance, core strength and overall athleticism.

Step 3: Design an Individualized Plan

Coach Jones firmly believes that each lifter must be treated as an individual. Some kids are naturals; some kids require more work before they can lift weights. Jones does not lump all of the kids together. Rather, he gives each child exercises that will challenge their personal abilities. Coach Jones says,

I go with whatever level the kid is at, and make them better.  I’m going to take each kid and treat them as an individual.  I’m not going to take a more athletic kid and make them work at the same level as the non-athletic kids.

Step 4: Find a Competition

Once Coach Jones determines that an athlete can move well with the barbell, he finds a competition. Jones says:

After a week or two of executing full movements, I find a competition that is about 6 weeks away. My goal is for the kid to go 6 for 6 at the competition. Competitions build confidence and commitment, both of which are necessary for success in the sport.

Step 5: Use Positive Reinforcement

Coach Jones is a firm believer in positivity. He says:

Everything that comes out of your mouth needs to be a positive. Nothing is ever negative. Combine sweet and sour. If you’re going to say something sour, you need to have something positive to say as well.

If you agree with Coach Jones’ philosophies and would like personal mentoring from him, Jones is now offering a Coach Mentorship Program to help less experienced coaches develop their athletes.  For more information on Jones’ new program, see

Photos by Lifting.Life, Wall Street Journal, and Island Packet





USA Weightlifting’s New Athlete Development Sites

On October 16, 2017, USA Weightlifting (USAW) announced 13 Athlete Development Sites located in the West and Southeast United States.  The announcement of these sites raised a number of questions:

  • What will the sites be used for?
  • Who can attend events at the sites?
  • What kinds of events will be hosted at the sites?
  • How much will the events cost?

I spoke to Suzy Sanchez, USAW Director of Development Programs, and gathered information about this new opportunity.

Q: Why did USAW create the Athlete Development Sites?

In April 2017, USAW created Athlete Development Camps.  We executed a three-month trial run in the West and Southeast.  After running the camps, however, we realized that we needed to restructure.  The purpose of the camps was to attract new athletes, not to educate existing athletes.  In fact, however, many of the athletes who signed up for the camps were seasoned athletes.  There was some dissatisfaction from these athletes who felt that they did not learn much from the camps.

From this experience, we gathered that our members are seeking opportunities for continuing education.  We created the Athlete Development Sites to replace the development camps and to offer continuing education opportunities for our members.

Q: Why did you select these particular sites?

The two largest pockets of weightlifting in the United States are in the West and Southeast.  We wanted to create sites in areas where we could serve the most members.  We also selected gyms that are run by coaches who are certified at the national level or higher.  We are constantly working to foster good relationships between gym owners and USA Weightlifing and feel that this program will facilitate that.  We also hope that the sites will link up talented athletes and talented coaches, creating more opportunities within the sport.

Q: What will the Athlete Development Sites offer?

The Athlete Development Sites will host five different types of clinics: Snatch, Clean & Jerk, Advanced Movement, Youth Weightlifting, and Introduction to Weightlifting.

Two of the clinics—Youth Weightlifting and Introduction to Weightlifting—will offer introductory instruction to beginners.

Three of the clinics—Snatch, Clean & Jerk, and Advanced Movement—will offer continuing education to seasoned athletes and coaches.

Q: What is the cost of attending a clinic?

We will be charging $99 for each clinic.  We hope the fee for the clinic, along with multiple site locations, will keep costs manageable for athletes and coaches.

Q: How can people register for a course?

Registration will take place through WebPoint on the USAW website.

USAW will issue an official press release with more details in November.  For further questions, contact Suzy Sanchez at  

Photos courtesy of Lifting.Life and USAW website.





Umm . . . We don’t DO that

“Today we will be doing panda pulls before the snatch and clean & jerk exercises,” explained Coach Ed, head coach of the Guam national team.  Coach Ed continued talking, but my mind was consumed with getting out of the panda pulls.

Our family recently moved to Guam, and my son, Hutch, and I are trying to integrate into the weightlifting community by working out with the national team on Saturdays.  Hutch and I have had a unique weightlifting journey.  We began lifting in Kansas with Coach Boris Urman, who taught us Russian weightlifting techniques.  We then moved to Germany, where we spent three years learning German techniques.  Like German engineering, German weightlifting is sophisticated, powerful and efficient.  I prefer this style of lifting and resist anything outside of the 38 established German weightlifting exercises.

So, when Coach Ed introduced the panda pulls, I wanted to say, “No, thank you.  We don’t do ridiculous, useless exercises.”

However, I just wrote an article that advised people to be humble and open to new ideas:

Don’t assume that your way is the best way.  Always seek to learn from other coaches.

So, instead I consented to the panda pulls.



And guess what?!  By the end of the workout, I had an epiphany.  The third pull is an active PULL, not just a drop under the bar.  The panda pulls reinforce this movement.



Should you start doing panda pulls?

Maybe, maybe not.  The point is that you should be open to new ideas from other experienced athletes and coaches.

This does not mean that you should change your plan and programming with every new idea that comes along.  Make a plan and stick to it, but be flexible enough to incorporate new skills and movements as you gain more knowledge.

When did you learn something unexpected?  Share your story in the comments below.


7 Solutions for Youth Weightlifting Programs

All weightlifting programs face certain challenges, such as making enough money to keep the gym open, attracting new members, and raising funds to travel to competitions.

Youth weightlifting programs, however, face special challenges.  For instance, most youth weightlifters don’t have their own money or transportation.  Many youth lifters do not practice good nutrition and some do not have parental support.  And then, there is homework—that daily chore loathed by parents and children alike.

Coastal Empire was recently selected as a USAW Athlete Development Training Site.

I spoke recently to Kerri Goodrich, head coach of Coastal Empire Weightlifting in Savannah, Georgia. Kerri was a collegiate weightlifter and former national team member.  She is now a USA Weightlifting Instructor and International Coach with a very successful youth weightlifting program.

Coach Goodrich faces the same challenges as other youth weightlifting coaches and has found some creative solutions:

Finding Athletes.  Most of Goodrich’s athletes come from the Performance Initiatives youth program.  Performance Initiatives (PI) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to uplifting youth through education and fitness.  PI offers an after school program for children, which includes bussing from the school to the center, homework tutors, and even free dinner through a food bank.  After kids have completed their homework, they may participate in athletics, including weightlifting training.  Most of Goodrich’s Coastal Empire athletes came through this program.

If you are interested in growing your youth program, consider partnering with a community program that offers after-school services to youth.  Community programs can help solve problems such as transportation, nutrition, and even tutoring.

Tackling Homework.  Before the lifters at Performance Initiatives can lift, they must finish their homework.  Goodrich adamantly states, “Homework comes first.”  Fortunately for Goodrich’s lifters, PI offers homework tutors to the children who come to the center.  In addition, Goodrich encourages her older athletes to help the younger kids with their homework.

Encourage your older athletes to mentor younger athletes—both with in athletic training and in school work.

Kerri’s lifters include 62-kg lifter, Carlos Millen (right), who will be representing the United States at the Youth Pan American Games in Cali, Colombia.


Providing Athlete Support.  Not all of Goodrich’s lifters have involved parents.  Goodrich ensures that her kids have plenty of support at competitions, however, by inviting parents, teachers, friends, and even church leaders to attend.  Goodrich explains, “Our competitions are always packed because people in the community—friends, teachers, and even pastors—come out to cheer them on.”

Announce competitions within the community and try to get involvement from as many people in your athletes’ lives as possible.

Raising Money.  When it comes to raising money, again Goodrich gets the whole community involved.  She seeks donations from local businesses and charitable organizations, such as the United Way, the Kiwanis Club, and churches.  Goodrich uses this money to fund her program and take kids to competitions.

Ask local businesses to sponsor your youth weightlifting team.  If your team is a nonprofit organization, seek funding from charitable sources.

Broadening Horizons.  Goodrich uses competitions in other cities as opportunities to expose her lifters to new culture and opportunities.  Before traveling, Goodrich researches the universities and places of historical interest in each city.  She takes her lifters to visit a university and multiple historical sites in each competition city.  Goodrich wants her athletes to know that college is within reach and the world is a wonderful place to explore.

Use out-of-town competitions as opportunities to explore new areas of the world.  Prior to arriving, research places of interest—such as universities and museums—and visit these places with your team.

Promoting Good Citizenship.  Even more than creating good weightlifters, Goodrich wants to create good people.  She requires her lifters to participate in volunteer work and community outreach efforts.  For instance, her lifters do weightlifting demonstrations and recently participated in a buddy walk.

Provide opportunities for your youth lifters to volunteer and give back to the community.  It will make them better people.

Collaborating with Other Coaches.  Goodrich hates to see coaches degrading one another.  She points out that different things work for different people and that we can all learn from one another.  Says Goodrich, “Coaches would be more successful if they collaborated with each other in growing the sport rather than putting each other down.”

Don’t assume that your way is the best way.  Always seek to learn from other coaches.