Youth Weightlifters Make Great . . .

Football, baseball, basketball, gymnastic, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, volleyball, wrestling, and track and field athletes. The explosive power, strength, flexibility, balance and agility developed through Olympic-style weightlifting transfers to almost every sport making weightlifting a great foundation for youth athletes.

What is the problem with this?

Coaches developing youth weightlifters struggle to keep their athletes. Once kids reach high school, the most athletic ones are heavily recruited by high school coaches to join team sports. Peer pressure compounds the issue. Kids want to be with their friends. Since youth weightlifters are more likely to train one-on-one with a coach or with athletes of various ages, they may want to join their peers in other sports.

The result . . .

The sport of weightlifting loses many potential superstars before they are even developed.

Sure, athletes can always return to the sport of weightlifting, but in what condition? Injured from another sport? With reduced mobility? Weightlifters who continue the sport through adolescence will have an advantage over those who leave the sport and return later.

What are some possible solutions?

Ray Jones, coach of 17-time youth American record holder, C.J. Cummings, provides some insight: “Weightlifting offers two huge incentives that other sports do not offer–travel and international representation.”

Travel: Most high school sports teams compete locally. The best athletes may travel to represent their schools at a state championship, but that is usually the extent of the travel opportunities.

Weightlifting, in contrast, offers travel opportunities to other states and even to national and international competitions. It is not uncommon for weightlifters to cross state lines to compete. In addition, a youth weightlifter can qualify for USA Weightlifting’s (USAW) Youth National Championship with a modest amount of training and preparation. Coaches seeking to retain youth weightlifters can make the sport more appealing by giving their athletes opportunities to compete outside of their local area, including USAW’s annual Youth National Championship.

International Competitions: Representing the United States at an international competition is a point of prestige for any athlete. An athlete who has represented not just their school–but their country–is very unique. The biggest promotion USAW can receive is from kids walking through schools wearing their Team USA jackets, which they earned by representing their country at an international competition.

Photo credit: Amy Yun

USA Weightlifting can grow the sport and retain its current youth athletes simply by making more international competition opportunities available to more kids.

The United States currently sends delegations of youth weightlifters to the Youth Pan American Games, Youth World Championships and Youth Olympic Games.

While these are fantastic opportunities, they favor 16-17 year old lifters. Younger lifters must beat out older lifters for an opportunity to compete. Unfortunately, many youth weightlifters are lured away from the sport before they ever qualify for these competitions.

In 2017 and 2018, USAW sent a delegation of youth weightlifters to the South American Under 15 Youth Weightlifting Championship. This was a great opportunity for younger athletes to shine. Even more athletes could participate, however, if there was a North American Under 15 Youth Weightlifting Championship. Such a competition, which could be self-funded like the South American Under 15 Youth Weightlifting Championship, would create more youth ambassadors for weightlifting in the United States. Alternatively, USAW could organize smaller invitational competitions with Canada and/or Mexico.

Youth weightlifters make great athletes. They have explosive power, strength, flexibility, balance and agility that transfers to many sports. These qualities, however, make them particularly vulnerable to leave the sport in favor of team sports. To retain these athletes, coaches should seek out competition opportunities outside their local area, including USAW’s annual Youth National Championship. USAW should continue to pursue international opportunities for its younger athletes, including a North American Under 15 Youth Weightlifting Championship.

Cover Photo Credit: Lifting.Life

Maximizing Your Insulin Response

“Carbohydrate” has become a dirty word in recent years due to the popularity of high-protein diets like the Paleo Diet and the Keto Diet.  These diets strive to maximize the body’s fat burning abilities by keeping insulin levels low and forcing the body to use fat as fuel.  

Unfortunately, these high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets do not maximize a weightlifter’s muscle building potential.  Consider these facts–

Anabolic hormones stimulate muscle growth and development. 

The body has three primary anabolic hormones:

  • Testosterone
  • Growth Hormone
  • Insulin  

Insulin is required to build muscle.  

USA Weightlifting’s sports dietitian, Meagan O’Connor explains:

Insulin helps to maintain blood glucose within a normal range. As you consume carbohydrates, they are broken down into glucose for energy into the bloodstream. When glucose levels rise, insulin is then secreted to help store glucose in the muscles, liver, and fat cells. So, insulin is an anabolic hormone (promotes building) of muscles. 

Insulin is even more anabolic than growth hormone, so diets that suppress the body’s insulin response hinder the body’s ability to create and maintain muscle mass.  

The body is very sensitive to insulin during and just after intense physical activity, especially weight training.  

A weightlifter can maximize this phenomenon by consuming fast-acting glucose forms during and just after lifting weights.  

USA Weightlifting’s sports dietitian, Meagan O’Connor explains:

Since weightlifting is using the stored glucose in our muscles for energy, it is important to consume fast-acting glucose forms (such as a sports drink or a granola bar made with refined grains). These break down faster in our bodies to get into the bloodstream and secrete the insulin to then rebuild and repair the muscles.

Fast-acting glucose forms are simply foods that are high on the glycemic index (GI). High GI foods are fast-digesting carbohydrates that enter the bloodstream quickly causing insulin to spike.

High GI foods Include:

  • Sugar
  • Candy
  • Sports Drinks
  • Soda
  • White Bread
  • Instant Oatmeal
  • Sugary Cereals
  • White Rice
  • Pasta
  • White Potatoes
  • Pretzels 
  • Rice Cakes 
  • Popcorn

A weightlifter can maximize muscle building and repair by consuming high GI foods during and just after training.

Caution: More is Not Better.  Inducing an insulin spike during and just after weightlifting boosts your body’s muscle building and repair potential.  However, eating high GI foods throughout the entire day is not beneficial.  High GI foods spike insulin. When the body has high levels of insulin, it will not burn fat.  It will simply use the carbohydrates available as fuel and store any excess in the muscles and fat cells.

Give your body a chance to burn fat by limiting your high GI foods to during and just after your workouts.  Through the rest of the day, strive to eat low GI foods, which will digest more slowly and not create a large insulin spike.

Photo Credit: Matthew Bjerre


  1. Ishii, Tomofusa, et al. “Resistance training improves insulin sensitivity in NIDDM subjects without altering maximal oxygen uptake.” Diabetes care21.8 (1998): 1353-1355.
  2. DC, Clay Hyght. “The Insulin Advantage.” T NATION,
  3. “Glycemic Index and Diabetes.” American Diabetes Association,
  4. “What Are Anabolic Hormones?15+ Ways To Boost It for Muscle Growth.” Total Shape,

The Most Important Thing

What is the most important aspect of developing a youth weightlifter?  Coaches of elite youth weightlifters weigh-in on the most important part of the process:


Ray Jones, coach of Youth World Record Holder C.J. Cummings and 2019 Youth World Team member Dade Stanley

Keeping athletes healthy and injury free.  I want to see my youth athletes lift in the Masters division.  It is not about the moment.  I want weightlifting to be something my athletes can do as long as they want to do it.  


Dane Millercoach of Haley Reichardt (2016 Youth Worlds bronze medalist), Kate Wehr and Emma Esterbrook (youth national champions) 

Technique.  The absolute most important aspect is to not only teach technique for proper movement but teach athletes the value of technique, what to look for technique-wise in other lifters and how to feel technically sound positions!


Kevin Doherty, coach of Olympian Jenny Arthur and 2019 Youth World Team member Seth Tom

Recruitment! Being in a comprehensive school setting allows me to funnel massive amounts of humanity through a weightlifting curriculum.

Second, teaching progression!


Jimmy Duke, coach of 2018 youth Olympian Jerome Smith and youth national champions Antwan Kilbert and Destiny Snider

Be Flexible.  The most important thing I have learned from coaching is that no two kids are the same.  Kids learn differently, move differently, have different mobilities and have different levels of athleticism or athletic experience.  So when it comes to putting concepts in an athlete’s head, especially a young athlete, you have to be ready to change plans.  You have to be flexible in your coaching method and verbal cues if you want to be an effective coach.


Ben Hwa, coach of 2019 Youth World Team member Seth Tom and co-coach of Hassle Free Barbell

Compete early and often. I think it sets a good precedence for kids to be unafraid to put themselves out there and show the progress they’ve made. It’s something that keeps them accountable to train and a way to continually show validation throughout the process.



Tripp Morris, coach of 2018 Youth Pan American bronze medalist and 2019 Youth World Team member, Hampton Morris
Patience.  As a coach, you have to have patience when developing a successful weightlifter.  Develop a long term plan and have patience to work that plan.


Opportunity. An athlete needs to have opportunity to develop into a successful weightlifter.  Athletes can have huge potential and a great work ethic, but without access or opportunity to work, then they will always be limited.
Photo Credit for all photos: Lifting.Life

Will Weightlifting be Dropped from the Olympic Games?

A January 22, 2019 press release from the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) revealed six doping violations from the 2018 IWF World Championships, all involving Thai athletes.

These doping violations come at a pivotal time for the sport.  In June 2017, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach told reporters:  “The IWF has until December 2017 to deliver a satisfactory report to the IOC on how they will address the massive doping problem this sport is facing.”

Since June 2017, the IWF has taken several measures to clean up the sport.  Most notably, in October 2017, the IWF banned nine countries–Russia, Armenia, Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Turkey, China and Kazakhstan–from participating in international competitions for twelve months.  The countries, referred to as the Tbilisi Nine, incurred three or more positive results from the retesting of frozen samples from the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympic Games.

The Tbilisi Nine were punished with a one year ban for having three or more positives across two competitions.  Thailand had six positives in a single competition.  With a delegation of 19 athletes, Thailand’s doping violations amounted to a 32% doping rate amongst their athletes.

The first two of Thailand’s World Championships positives were announced on Dec. 23: women’s super-heavyweight bronze medalist Duanganksnorn Chide (above) and 17-year-old Teerapat Chomchuen, the only male among the six. The other four, named by the IWF on January 22, are reigning Olympic champions Sopita Tanasan (48kg) and Sukanya Srisurat (58kg), plus Thunya Sukcharoen and Chitchanok Pulsabsakul. Photo credit: Tim Scott, Lifting.Life


The ban on the Tbilisi Nine sent a clear message to the weightlifting community that countries with athletes who dope will be punished as a whole.  Nothing less than a one year ban for Thai weightlifters should be accepted by the community.  In fact, greater punishment is warranted in Thailand’s case.  The astounding number of positives suggests systematic doping, an act that resulted in Russia’s removal from the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.  In addition, Thailand’s doping occurred after the ban on the Tbilisi Nine, suggesting that a one-year ban is not enough to deter countries from doping.

Interestingly, the 2019 IWF World Championships are slated for September in Pattaya, Thailand.  To assure the IOC that weightlifting is standing strong against doping, the IWF should relocate the 2019 IWF World Championships, ban Thailand from participating in the sport for at least a year, and completely remove them from the 2020 Olympic Games.  Anything less may jeopardize weightlifting’s presence as an Olympic Sport.

Photo Credit: Lifting.Life

Is Weightlifting Cleaning Up?

For many years, the sport of weightlifting has been fraught with instances of illegal drug use, a.k.a. doping.  Clean athletes stood on the sidelines as their drug-enhanced counterparts took home the medals and glory of championship titles.  Cynicism abounded in the United States.  No one believed that U.S. athletes could bring home medals because of athletes–and countries–who flagrantly violated anti-doping policies.

In recent years, the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) has stepped up its measures to clean up the sport:

  • In June 2017, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President, Thomas Bach, warned that weightlifting may be excluded from the 2024 Olympic Games if it did not provide a satisfactory report to the “massive doping problem” by December 2017.  IOC president Thomas Bach told reporters:  “The IWF has until December 2017 to deliver a satisfactory report to the IOC on how they will address the massive doping problem this sport is facing.”
  • The IWF subsequently implemented the IOC’s recommendations to clean up the sport, including introducing a new Anti-Doping Policy and securing WADA compliance.
  • In December 2017, the IOC acknowledged the IWF’s efforts but determined that the status remained unchanged, and that the sport’s inclusion in the 2024 Olympics was “subject to the IWF further demonstrating that it has fulfilled certain conditions.”
  • The IWF has continued to take measures beyond those recommended by the IOC, such as new bodyweight categories and a new Qualification System designed to reward nations with a history of clean weightlifting.  In addition, the IWF partnered with USA Weightlifting and USADA to provide worldwide anti-doping education to weightlifters.
  • In June 2018, the IOC again revisited the matter of inclusion in the 2024 Olympic Games and again determined that weightlifting’s inclusion was still pending review.

So, is the sport actually getting cleaner?

The 2018 IWF World Championships, held in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, November 1-10, displayed plenty of evidence that the sport is, in fact, cleaning up:

Rainbow of Representation on the Podium: The podium was not dominated by a handful of countries. Of the 30 medals contested in the Men’s sessions, 17 of these medals went to different countries.  Only five countries took home multiple medals, with only China (9 medals) taking home more than two Men’s medals.

On the women’s side, athletes from 13 different countries were represented on the podium.  Only four countries took home multiple medals, although China (10 medals) and Thailand (6 medals) each took home a large number of Women’s medals.

In comparison, only 15 countries were represented on the podium in the Men’s sessions of the 2015 World Championships, and only 9 countries were represented in the Women’s sessions.

Guangzhou, China is home to over 13,000,000 people.

China took home 19 of the 60 total contested medals, or 32% of the medals, at the 2018 World Championships.  This sounds like a disproportionate share.  However, when you consider that 25% of the world’s population lives in China, China’s medal haul does not seem out of line.

Performance of the Tbilisi Nine.   In October 2017, the IWF banned nine countries–Russia, Armenia, Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Turkey, China and Kazakhstan–from participating in international competitions for twelve months.  The countries, referred to as the Tbilisi Nine, incurred three or more positive results from the retesting of frozen samples from the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympic Games.  None of the nine participated at the 2017 World Championships in Anaheim.  All nine countries, however, participated in the 2018 World Championships in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.

In a December 11, 2018 article by insidethegames, Attila Adamfi, director general of the IWF, pointed out some interesting points of performance from the 2018 World Championships in Ashgabat:

Apart from China, the “Tbilisi nine” showed a marked drop in performance in the recent IWF World Championships in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, which is seen as an indicator that the IWF’s tougher stance on doping is working.

Adamfi called Ashgabat “a milestone event” and said, “It is interesting that more than half of the athletes from the nine did not even make the A Groups, with 64 of 122 in the B, C and D Groups.”

He said there was “a clear distinction between China and the rest” based on their doping record of only two positives since 2011, the evidence of which “suggests their recent success was not supported by doping”.

“Take out China and look at the other eight,” said Adamfi.

“Azerbaijan, all seven athletes in C or D Groups, not even one in B.

“Out of 20 in Kazakhstan’s team, 12 in B and C Groups, and only two medals in total.

“Their role was more realistic, their performance level much more equal to the others.”

Lower Posted Totals from Tbilisi Nine Athletes.  Excluding China, fourteen athletes from Tbilisi Nine countries competed in both the 2015 and 2018 World Championships.  Of these fourteen athletes, only four posted higher totals in the 2018 World Championships.  The other 10 athletes posted lower totals in 2018 than in 2015.

Of this group, the average decrease in total weight lifted for Men was 3.8%, and the average decrease in total weight lifted for Women was 5.3%.  This decrease suggests cleaner athletes with more realistic totals.

Artem Okulov secured Russia their first of two medals of the 2018 IWF World Championships. Photo Credit: Mahassen Hala Paiva @liftinglife

Fewer Medals Claimed by Tbilisi Nine Athletes.  Again excluding China, Tbilisi Nine athletes claimed 29% of the Women’s medals at the 2015 World Championships but only 10% of the medals in the 2018 World Championships.  Similarly, these countries took home 42% of the Men’s medals at the 2015 World Championships but only 23% of the Men’s medals at the 2018 World Championships.

What does this mean for youth weightlifters?

It appears that weightlifting is cleaning up!  This is encouraging for all youth lifters and their coaches.  It gives us all hope that hard work will pay off.  Do your part to keep the sport clean by familiarizing yourself with the material on the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency website and checking all of your supplements–including protein powders and vitamins–for banned substances.

Cover Photo Credit: Ryan Paiva @liftinglife

Lessons Learned from the Youth Olympic Games

In October 2018, Peyton Brown and Jerome Smith traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina to represent the United States at the Youth Olympic Games. Both athletes delivered outstanding performances, with both placing higher than any U.S. athletes have ever placed at the Youth Olympic Games.

Peyton Brown (58 kg), age 17, earned a bronze medal making her the first American to bring home a medal at the Youth Olympic Games. She totaled 186kg with a 85kg snatch and a 101kg clean & jerk. Photo Credit: USA Weightlifting


Jerome Smith (69kg), age 17, finished 4th with a best snatch of 127kg, best clean & jerk of 155kg and total of 282.

Jimmy Duke, personal coach of Jerome Smith, shares the highlights and challenges of the Youth Olympic Games:

The Youth Olympic Games was a really cool experience. It was incredible to see an Opening Ceremony that was for my athlete. It was cool to see all of these buildings that had been constructed just for this event and know that my athlete would be a part of it.

The 2018 Youth Olympic Games had a lot of cool firsts. For starters, the opening ceremony was held in an open town square, not in a stadium. The Games were free to the public; you just had to wait in line. It was great to see the Argentine government compensating their people for the inconvenience of the Games by offering free admission.

The Games, however, presented some challenges for Coach Duke. Specifically, the United States was given a single coach credential, which was not transferrable. Coach Brown, Peyton’s personal coach was given the credential, putting Coach Duke in an interesting position:

The experience that Jerome and I had was different because I was not a credentialed coach. After Jerome got off the airplane, they took him off, and I had to find a taxi and go to my own hotel.  Things were made even worse by the fact that Jerome’s phone froze while we were on the trip, making it impossible to text or message him.

The Games were very spread out through the city of Buenos Aires, with some of the events even taking place outside the city. Fortunately for the weightlifters, the competition venue was only about a quarter-mile from the athlete village, and a shuttle bus transported athletes from the village to the venue.

It was a little more difficult for me. Since I was not credentialed, I could not go to Jerome’s training sessions or coach him at the event.

From this experience, Coach Duke learned some valuable lessons:

Prepare Your Athlete to Compete Without You.

As much as every coach wants to be at every competition with his athletes, this is not realistic. Says Coach Duke:

I love Jerome to death, and I’ll be at every single event that I can, but there will come a day when I can’t be at an event, and he will have to compete on his own. He needs to be okay with it. At the end of the day, your athlete must be able to make the lifts, with or without you.

To help Jerome prepare, Coach Duke began with a frank discussion:

Jerome and I went to a weightlifting camp in August. This was when I found out that there was only one weightlifting credential, and that I would not be getting it. I talked to Pyrros [Dimas], who had worked with Jerome several times in the past. Pyrros assured me that he would be there to coach Jerome. Before we left the camp, Pyrros and I sat down with Jerome and let him know what would be happening. I think this helped Jerome mentally prepare long before the competition.

Prepare Everything Before the Competition.

I wanted to mitigate as many issues as possible before the competition. I spent a lot of time before the competition going over things in my head to ensure that Jerome had all of the things he needed. Also, Jerome had already done all of his heavy training before we arrived. I gave David Brown [the team leader] and Pyrros the workouts, and they followed my plan in the training hall with Jerome.  Jerome competed on the fourth day of the games.

Get Credentialed!

For Coach Duke, credentialing was a major issue. Without it, he could not coach his athlete either in training or the competition. It was difficult for Duke to even get into the venue to watch Jerome compete because of long lines. Says Duke:

Getting the lowest level credential was almost impossible by the time the Games started. If someone had told me in advance, I would have volunteered just to get a credential. Interestingly, one man with a credential said that he would trade me his credential for my USA Weightlifting jacket. While it was an enticing offer, I declined.

Coach Duke advises coaches of potential 2020 Olympic athletes:

If you think you have someone eligible for Tokyo, fill out a volunteer application with the IOC [International Olympic Committee]. If you want to be in the back with your athlete, fill out the paperwork and take it seriously.

My biggest piece of advice: Don’t bother the IOC and don’t complain. If you are not willing to get credentialed by the IOC, expect to be disappointed.

Ultimately, Jerome pulled off a stellar performance, making five of his six lifts, and Coach Duke could not be prouder:

Even though I sat on the sidelines, it was a brilliant experience. Jerome competed great. He had some adversity in the warm up. He pushed hard, though, and did fantastic. I was so proud of him. At the end of it, Jerome was asked by an interviewer how he felt about placing higher than any American had ever placed in a Youth Olympic Games. Jerome responded, “I made 5 out of 6 lifts. I don’t really care how anyone else has done before me.” I gave the interviewer the same answer. It wasn’t about anyone else, it was about Jerome.

If you have done your best, you should be proud of your performance. Jerome understood that. As a coach, this made me very proud.


Building an Olympian: An Interview with Tim Swords

Tim Swords, coach of Sarah Robles, 2017 World Champion and bronze-medalist at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, shares what it takes to build an Olympian:

Pursue your Passion.  When Coach Swords was a young boy, he visited a drug store with his mother.  At the store, he spotted a fitness magazine with a man doing an Olympic lift, the snatch, on the cover.  Swords asked his mom if she would buy the magazine for him.  She did, and Swords, who was dyslexic and disliked reading, read the magazine three times before his father came home from work that evening.  On hearing that Swords had read the magazine multiple times, Swords’ father told his mother to subscribe to the magazine.  And thus began Swords’ lifetime passion for weightlifting.

As an adult, Swords had opportunities to work as a collegiate strength and conditioning coach.  He chose another path, however–one that allowed him to pursue his passion for coaching weightlifting.  Swords opened a gym in his garage, where he now trains up to 65 athletes–sometimes 30 at a time–as the head coach of Team Houston.  Says Swords:

I have been in the sport since 1979 and watching the sport since 1973.  I have been offered collegiate strength and conditioning jobs, but my heart was in working with kids.  So, I turned down these jobs to follow my passion.

I have about 42,000 hours of coaching on the platform. I haven’t had much compensation, but God has been good to me. I recently retired.  Until then, I had a job that I loved, and it allowed me to get home at 2:00 to train kids. After more than 40 years of coaching weightlifting, I’m still excited about the sport. I chose to follow my passion, and I have lived a happy and prosperous life.

Love Your Athletes.  Coach Swords does not recruit.  However, he never has any problem finding athletes because he embraces his athletes, cares for them, and helps them become the best versions of themselves.

When Sarah Robles approached Coach Swords and asked him to coach her, Swords accepted immediately.  Swords recalls, “Sarah was not in a great place in her career.  She had just received a two-year sanction for taking an over the counter medication for PCOS, and she was having trouble finding someone to coach her.  However, I had seen her compete, and I knew that she was special.”

Coach Swords subsequently helped Robles relocate to Houston, find a job and settle into training.  Over the years, Swords has extended this same helping hand to other athletes.  He once helped two young drug dealers stop selling drugs, become athletes, and secure jobs as collegiate strength and conditioning coaches.  Swords firmly believes that a coach must care about his athletes–in and out of the gym–to achieve success:

I must make my athletes believe that I love them, and I will do everything I can to help them.  There must be a strong relationship between the coach and the athlete.  If the relationship is there, and the trust is there, then you can do amazing things together as a coach/athlete partnership.


Believe that YOUR Athletes are the BEST.  Coach Swords explains:

Even the best athletes have self-doubt.  I constantly strive to build up my athletes.  I want them to feel good about themselves and believe that they are the BEST.

When athletes believe they are the best, they will perform their best.


 Educate Yourself and Build Relationships.  In his early years, Swords recalls:

I read everything I could read about weightlifting.  I spoke to people who were in the sport.  I sought out mentors and built relationships within the sport. I put my energy into learning what other people did.  I visited sports schools in other countries.

Even after forty years of coaching, Swords seeks out opportunities to learn and grow from other coaches:

I always watch other coaches and athletes.  I observe everything.  I am continually learning.

Stick with What Works.  Coach Swords has used the same program with Sarah Robles for the past five years.

Why?  Because it works.

Swords explains:

We train six days a week with a simple program that involves high intensity–low reps, high weight.  It works, so we keep doing it.


Search for the Right Words.  Words have power.  Coach Swords prays each morning for the right words to deliver to his athletes:

I try to make my athletes feel good and charge them up.  I try to make them feel like they are alive.  They are special.  I am constantly motivating them.  I pray to have the right things to say when they need to be said.

Just before Sarah Robles went onto the platform for her winning clean and jerk at the 2017 IWF World Championships, Coach Swords asked her: “Can you give me the best 8 seconds of your life?  If you can, you will go down in weightlifting history.”  Sarah responded, “yes.” She made the lift and won the championship.

Pay Attention to the Little Things.

Winning is in the details.  Coach Swords likes to know the details of everything involving his athletes and their competition.

Swords explains:

Communication is key.  I want to know how my athletes are feeling, how they slept, their nutrition, even the drama that is going on in their lives.

Coach Swords also scrutinizes everything at the competition venue:

When we get to a competition, we walk around the training hall.  We look at the platform.  We recon the area.  We don’t want any surprises.  We familiarize ourselves with everything.  Athletes will have sensory bombardment when they are competing, but you can manage some of this stress by knowing what you are dealing with.

Even the slightest things can become major distractions in the heat of competition.   For instance, in the 2012 Olympics in London, Sarah was thrown off by a buzzing sound coming from a camera moving around on the lifting platform.  She had not been on the platform in advance, and she did not expect the noise.  Coach Swords explains, “At the Rio Olympics, they had that camera, too.  We learned from our experience.”

Coach Swords also observes other coaches and athletes at competitions.  During the 2017 World Championship, Swords constantly collected information:

While we were in the training hall, I was watching people.  I was taking notes on what people were doing–how long it took them to warm up, what lifts they were making and missing.  I had a Scouting report of where people were at.  I come from a background of professional team sports, and it is nice to know who you are dealing with.

With over 40 years of coaching experience, Coach Swords knows how to build champions and keep them performing at their best.  He has build a legacy through his athletes that will live on in their lives.

Photos courtesy of Lifting.Life.

Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast has been touted as the most important meal of the day. So what do youth weightlifters eat for breakfast? Six members of USA Weightlifting’s 2019 Youth World Team share what they eat for breakfast.

Ryan Grimsland (67 kg), age 16, of Mash Mafia earned best youth male lifter at the 2018 American Open 3 in Las Vegas.  For breakfast, Ryan eats

A bowl of cereal or two waffles and orange juice.  I don’t like to eat a lot in the morning; it makes me feel lethargic.

Dade Stanley (81 kg), age 16, of Team Divergent has won multiple youth national championships and represented Team USA at the 2018 Youth Pan American Games.

My choice for breakfast is either a breakfast sandwich with eggs, ham and cheese on an English muffin or some oatmeal with peanut butter.  Sometimes I’ll eat both if I’m hungry enough!

At only 16-years old, Seth Tom (55 kg), of Team Divergent is a seasoned Team USA athlete.  Seth first competed internationally at the 2016 Youth World Championship on his 15th birthday.  Says Seth:

For breakfast, I usually have oatmeal, two or three eggs, and a piece of fruit.  This is my usual breakfast because it is easy to make and eat before school starts.

Coby Rhodes (61 kg), age 15, of Florida Elite won the 2018 Youth National championship in the 62 kg weight class.   For breakfast, Coby eats:

Special K cereal or waffles with peanut butter and honey.

Hampton Morris (55 kg), age 14, of Dwala Barbell won best 14-15 year old youth male lifter at the 2018 Youth National Championship and earned a bronze medal at the 2018 Youth Pan American Games.

I usually have some kind of carb, like a Kodiak Cake, as well as some kind of protein.  On heavy days and competition days, I like to have a pancake or waffle and a McGriddle.

Hutch Friend (49 kg), age 14, of Team Divergent holds 13 youth American records.  For breakfast Hutch eats:

Two eggs and oatmeal with walnuts, raisins and chia.  On training days, I also drink fresh juice with beets, carrots, lemon and ginger.

Photo Credits to Lifting.Life

Mobility Work for Youth Weightlifters

Olympic weightlifting requires more than strength.  It requires mobility, or flexibility through a range of motion.  An athlete with limited mobility can still lift weights, but the athlete cannot reach his full potential as a weightlifter.  For instance, an athlete who struggles to maintain an upright torso in the bottom of a squat can compensate for the lack of mobility by executing a power snatch instead of a full snatch.  This athlete will be outperformed, however, by athletes with similar–or even less–strength and the ability to stabilize the barbell overhead in a squat.

Strength makes a weightlifter.  Mobility makes a champion.

If you are searching for a place to start, consider this mobility workout used by Hampton Morris, reigning 50kg American youth weightlifting champion (14-15 yr.) and Team USA member.

PSOAS Smashing: Take a hard ball, such as a softball, and place it between your hip crease and the floor.  Gently roll out the muscles in this area for 90 seconds each side.  This movement helps release tightness in the pelvic area and promotes a better neutral spine.


Glute Rolling: Cross one foot over the opposite knee.  Place a hard ball under the glute muscles and roll for 3 minutes each side.  This movement can also be performed on a foam roller.  For weightlifters, the glutes are an area of hidden tension, with the tension putting stress on the hip, lower back and knees.


Banded leg stretches: Lie on your back and wrap a resistance band around the bottom of one flexed foot.  Holding the band, guide the leg across the body until you feel a stretch.  Keep the shoulders and lower back on the floor.  The inactive leg remains extended on the floor.  Hold for 1 minute on each side.

This movement stretches the TFL (tensor fasciae latae), IT band, and hamstrings.

While you have the band around the foot, take the foot to the outside of the body and hold for one minute.  This movement stretches the groin.

Finally, bring the foot toward your face and hold for one minute.  This movement stretches the hamstrings.

Posterior Hip Stretch: Lie on your back with one ankle crossed over the opposite thigh, just above the knee.  Use a band to apply pressure to the opposite foot.  Alternatively, lie with your bottom against a wall and intensify the stretch by pressing your foot against the wall. Hold for 1 minute.  This movement will be felt on the outside of the hip.



Knee to Chest: Lie on your back with your legs extended in front of you.  Grasp one knee and bring it to the chest, keeping the other leg extended and flat against the floor.  Hold each side for 1 minute.  This movement stretches the lower back, glutes and pelvic muscles.



Internal Hip Rotation Stretch: Lie on your back with your knees together and your feet
wide.  Allow your knees to fall toward the floor.  If necessary, keep the knees together with a resistance band.  Hold for 3 minutes. This movement guards against lower back pain, knee injury and hip impingement that is caused when the spine attempts to compensate for lack of rotation.

Lying Wall Stretch: Lie on the floor with your bottom against a wall and your legs extended straight up toward the ceiling.  If available, use a resistance band to keep the legs together.  Place a light weight, such as a small sandbag, on the feet to intensify the stretch.  Hold for up to 10 minutes.  This pose not only relieves lower back pain, it also refreshes the legs by giving blood and lymph circulation a boost toward the upper body.


Improved mobility makes injuries less likely by helping the body handle the stresses of weightlifting.






Hampton uses these accessories to execute his mobility workout.  If you do not have a weight bag, make your own with some rice, dry beans or sand!

No need to buy a fancy ball for rolling.  A softball will do the trick.

A variety of resistance bands or straps can be used in this workout.


Always End with a Game

What do kids like?  According to Shiloh Ellis, youth athlete and coach, “Kids like games.”  At 12-years old, Shiloh is likely the youngest CrossFit and weightlifting coach in the United States.  Shiloh is so passionate about coaching that he completed a CrossFit Level 1 course and received a special certificate for his efforts.  Shiloh recently shared his perspective on training youth athletes.

Q: Who are you coaching right now?

I am an intern at CrossFit Full Potential in Newburyport [Massachusetts] where I teach a CrossFit Kids class.  Also, I am coaching a group of Boys Scouts who are completing their Personal Fitness merit badge.  I will be working with them for twelve weeks.

Q: What topics are important to teach youth athletes?

Nutrition is really important.  I like to educate other kids about sugar and how bad it is for you.  Eating too much sugar can lead to hyperinsulinemia, [an increased level of insulin in the blood].  Hyperinsulinemia can lead to type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease and even organ failure.

I encourage kids to read product labels and not just rely on product claims.  Manufacturers use pictures that are appealing to the eye and words like “fiber” and “high protein” to sell products.  It doesn’t mean that these foods are healthy, though.  You have to read the ingredient lists and look at the labels.

Q: When is the best time to talk to kids about nutrition?

I like to talk to them after the workout.  They get their energy out from the workout and listen better.

Q: What do you like about coaching other kids?

I love teaching. Some kids are really into fitness, but others are not.  Maybe they will learn to love it, though.  Some kids don’t love working out at first, but six months later, they do.  When I see a kid who wants to get better, it motivates me.

Q: Is there anything you don’t love about coaching kids?

I love working out, especially CrossFit, so I want to jump in and do the workouts with the kids I am training.  I know that I can’t do that as their coach, though.  I have to stay focused on the athletes and what they need.

Q: What makes you a good coach?

I know what kids want.  I’ve seen adults coach kids and kids coach kids.  Kids know what kids want, so they can more easily relate to it.  When adults try to coach kids the same way they coach adults, it can get boring.  

Q: What do kids want?

Kids want a game.  I try to include a game at the end of every workout.  A simple game is “The Ground is Lava.”  Put down objects that kids can move across, like boxes or ropes.  

I don’t have the biggest area at my gym, but I make things work.  We have an Air Runner that is a direct shot to the garage door.  Kids hop from this onto a box, then slide and hop onto the assault bike and bike a certain number of calories.  

Get creative.  Take inspiration from the video games and movies that kids watch.  For instance, imagine that you are on a mission and have to run away from zombies, then you have to swing across a pit with snakes in it.  

Q: What can kids do to help other kids?

Kids can raise money to help other kids in need.  For the past three years, I have been involved with kettlebells4kids, an organization that raises money and awareness for homeless children.  I have traveled to 16 states and talked to over 50 gyms to raise money.  Whatever state the money is raised in, it goes to that state.  Money that I have raised has gone to Bright Space, a play area in a low-income housing development in Newburyport, that gives kids a safe place to play with toys and books.

Q: What are your goals for the future?

I want to be on the Level 1 Seminar Staff.  I’ve always wanted to be a coach and own my gym.  And I want to live in Tennessee on a little farm with no neighbors.  It just sounds peaceful.   

Q: What message would you like to send to other youth weightlifters?

Keep up what you are doing.  Don’t stop.  Once you get the technique, it gets easier.

For more insights from Shiloh, check on this video created by the CrossFit organization: