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 RayJonesWeightlifting.com.

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

 

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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 Suzy.Sanchez@usaweightlifting.org.  

Photos courtesy of Lifting.Life and USAW website.

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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.

 

5 Benefits of Training Backwards

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

Wait, what?!  Squats first?

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

Not ready to commit to a full schedule change?

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

Photos by Lifting.Life.

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What Does it Take to Make Weight?

Almost all weightlifters have done it—some to a small extent, some to a large extent.  No one, however, wants to talk about it.  And those who do talk about it generally downplay or lie about the extent of their behavior.

You will hear weightlifters discussing the topic privately, trying to figure out the best strategies.  When it comes to publicly discussing the matter, however, the community is mute.

Run an internet search for the words “weightlifting” and “weight cutting.”  There are a couple dozen anecdotal articles–weightlifters telling stories about what worked for them.  However, there are few guidelines established by medical professionals and little organizational guidance.

Unfortunately, silence is not the best way to address this matter.  Pretending that it doesn’t happen—or that the sport doesn’t encourage it—can be harmful, especially to youth weightlifters.

What is weight cutting?

Weight cutting involves losing weight quickly to fit into a lower weight class for a sports competition.

Weight cutting is typically accomplished through food restriction or water manipulation—forcing water out of the body prior to a weigh-in and then rehydrating as quickly as possible.

About 65% of the human body is made of water, which makes it a popular source of temporary weight loss.  Studies have shown that dehydration of 2-3% has little effect on strength or anaerobic power.  Reduced water can be regained by hydrating after weigh-ins.  According to a study by the University of Montreal, it takes only about 5 minutes for water to enter the bloodstream from the stomach.  And, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, the body can go from moderately dehydrated to fully rehydrated within 45 minutes with only 600 mL of water.  (This study was performed on subjects age 25, so age could affect the timing of water absorption.)

Doctors and nutritionists generally recommend against weight cutting.  However, many athletes in weight class sports do it to gain an advantage.

 

Is weight cutting dangerous? 

Weight cutting, also referred to as rapid weight loss, came into the spotlight in the fall of 1997 when three collegiate wrestlers died within a 5-week period from complications of weight cutting.  All three wrestlers were attempting to lose weight rapidly by inducing severe dehydration (exercise and heat-induced sweating and fluid depravation).  After these deaths, weight cutting was no longer considered a harmless exercise in discipline and self-control.

In 2015, the American College of Sports Medicine published a journal article entitled “Rapid Weight Loss in Sports with Weight Classes.”  Of interest, the article noted:

  • Rapid dehydration by more than 5% of the total body weight can result in muscle cramps, muscle injuries, heat stroke, and even death.
  • No matter which strategies are used, weight loss that occurs in less than 7 days has potential negative health and performance effects.
  • Athletes who are competing at an appropriate body composition achieved with scientifically sound training and nutrition principles will maximize their performance without needing to engage in rapid weight loss prior to the competition.

Why is there not more medical guidance on weight cutting?

When asked about weight cutting, Dr. Mark Lavallee, Chairman of the USA Weightlifting Sports Medicine Society, acknowledged that numerous athletes regularly cut weight without any adverse side effects.  He explained, however, that he could not give general recommendations on weight cutting because what is safe and perfectly fine for a healthy athlete with no medical conditions could be detrimental to another athlete.

Dr. Lavallee pointed out that an athlete’s age, physical maturity, body composition and associated medical conditions all factor into the equation.  He gave two examples to illustrate his point:

  • A 12-year old female who is borderline anemic because she has heavy periods. A simple 1-2% weight cut could greatly decrease her strength and predispose her to passing out.
  • An 11-year old male with sickle cell trait.  During physically stressful times, such as dehydration, heat stress, or high altitude, his red blood cells could “sickle” or change shape, which would decrease oxygen carrying capacity and increase risk of hypoxia, clots, severe joint pain, and even death.  This athlete should not dehydrate even 2-3%.

Dr. Lavallee advised that any athlete wanting to engage in weight cutting practices should seek the advice of a sports physician for a personalized plan.

What about organizational guidance?

Weightlifting has not suffered the same tragedies as wrestling, and USA Weightlifting (USAW) does not regulate weight cutting practices.  USAW does prepare Competition Readiness plans for members of its international team, which monitor athletes’ bodyweight going into international competitions.  For all other athletes, however, USAW leaves the matter of weight management up to the individuals involved.

Wrestling, however, has developed some regulation following the deaths of the three collegiate wrestlers.  The National Federation of State High School Associations implemented rules in the 2006-2007 competition season that are intended to discourage high school wrestlers from last minute weight cutting.  Most notably, the regulations require:

  • A hydration level not to exceed 1.025

  • A body fat assessment no lower than 7 percent for boys and 12 percent for girls

  • A monitored, weekly weight loss plan limiting weekly weight loss to 1.5 percent of total body weight per week.

So, a wrestler who wants to “weight light” for a competition must plan in advance and cannot rely on last minute dehydration.

Why are the wrestling regulations of interest to weightlifters?

Both wrestling and weightlifting are weight class sports.  Wrestling has decided that a last minute bodyweight cut of 1.5% is acceptable for high school athletes, but anything more is not okay.  As a coach or parent of a youth weightlifter, this could serve as a helpful number if your athlete wants to cut weight before a competition.  

Keep in mind, however, Dr. Lavallee’s recommendation to seek advice from a sports doctor before undertaking any weight cutting measures.

What can the weightlifting community do to reduce weight cutting by youth weightlifters?

  • Education:  Youth athletes should be taught that rapid weight loss measures can be dangerous.  They should learn proper weight management techniques so that weight cutting does not become necessary.  Weight management is simply achieving a desired body weight through healthy food choices.  The process can be as simple as cutting out junk food prior to a competition or as complicated as a detailed diet plan.  Coaches can assist in this effort by encouraging their young athletes to make good food choices.  Parents can assist by keeping junk food out of the house and making healthy snacks readily available.  And USA Weightlifting can assist by making weight management and nutrition materials available to its athletes.
  • Rule Changes: According to the American College of Sports Medicine article referenced above, rule changes impact athletes’ behavior even more than educational programs.  The article points out that voluntary education programs in place between 1960 and 1997 had little impact on wrestlers’ weight cutting behavior.  After the NCAA and National Federation of State High School Associations implemented weight cutting regulations, however, the frequency and magnitude of weight cutting by wrestlers went down.

What rule changes would benefit youth weightlifters?

Allow 13 & Under weightlifters to compete regardless of their bodyweight.  Under the current rules, a youth weightlifter at a national USA Weightlifting competition, such as USAW’s Youth Nationals, must declare a weight class the evening before the competition begins.  Two hours before the athlete competes, he or she must weigh in.  If the athlete weighs in too heavy or light for the declared weight class, the athlete cannot compete.  This rule applies to all weightlifters in the competition, whether the lifters are age 9 or 17.  The rule puts pressure on athletes who are positioned on the borderline of a weight class.  The athletes’ parents have forked over a good amount of money in flights, hotel rooms, meals, and competition fees.  If the athlete does not make weight, he risks letting down his parents and wasting their time and money.  The rule often leads young athletes to take last minute weight cutting measures.

Coach Jimmy Duke, head coach of Lift for Life gym in St. Louis, Missouri proposes a very simple solution to this problem:

Allow the youngest lifters (13 & Under) to lift regardless of their bodyweight.  If an athlete weighs-in too heavy, just ask the athlete to return a couple of hours later when the next weight class weighs-in.  

Q: Why not extend this rule to all youth lifters?

A: Coach Duke points out that lifters 13+ can compete in International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) competitions.  IWF rules require athletes to compete within designated weight classes.  If the athletes do not make weight at the competitions, they cannot compete.  So, athletes 13+ should learn any weight management techniques necessary to compete within their weight classes.

But I want to move down a weight class!  Can I do this safely?

In weightlifting, it is not unusual for athletes to obsess about their weight classes—even to the detriment of building muscle or training hard.  All too often I hear a weightlifter say, “If I could only lose [a ridiculous amount of weight], while maintaining the same strength, I could be really competitive.”

A few thoughts on that . . .

  • Have patience.  This is not the sport of weight loss.  It is the sport of weightlifting.  It is easier to lose weight than to gain strength.  Building strength takes time!  Ultimately, however, you will be more satisfied if you train hard and lift heavy than if you are always hungry and performing below your potential.
  • Body Fat: If you have a lot of body fat to spare, losing weight likely will benefit you.  Shedding excess fat will make you lighter and healthier without affecting your strength.  After all, fat doesn’t lift weight—muscle does.  If you are currently at a healthy weight with a normal amount of body fat, however, losing weight probably won’t make you any more competitive because some of the weight you lose will be muscle.
  • Weight management: Healthy eating can lead you to the correct weight class.  There is nothing wrong with losing weight by cleaning up your diet.  Swap junk food for healthy snacks like fruits and vegetables.  Substitute water for sugary beverages.  Eat a salad once in a while!  And if you are serious about losing weight while lifting heavy, consult a sports nutritionist for a personal weight loss plan.

Weight cutting should not be taboo in the weightlifting community.  As long as weightlifting remains a weight-class sport, weight cutting will occur.  However, as parents, coaches and advocates for youth weightlifters, we should do our best to encourage healthy weight management over last minute weight loss efforts.

References:

Khodaee, Morteza, Lucianne Olewinski, Babak Shadgan, and Robert R. Kiningham. “Rapid Weight Loss in Sports with Weight Classes.” Current Sports Medicine Reports 14, no. 6 (2015): 435-41.

Péronnet, F, et al. “Pharmacokinetic Analysis of Absorption, Distribution and Disappearance of Ingested Water Labeled with D₂O in Humans.” European Journal of Applied Physiology., U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21997675.

The Acute Effects of Fluid Intake on Urine Specific Gravity … : The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.” LWW, journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2013/04000/The_Acute_Effects_of_Fluid_Intake_on_Urine.18.aspx.

Lambert, C., and B. Jones. “Alternatives to Rapid Weight Loss in US Wrestling.International Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 31, no. 08, Nov. 2010, pp. 523–528., doi:10.1055/s-0030-1254177.

Photos courtesy of Lifting.Life.

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Creating Confidence: An Interview with Jenny Schumacher

A large black Labradoodle ambles toward the entrance of Proven Strength and Conditioning, the weightlifting gym co-owned by Jenny Schumacher in American Fork, Utah.  Schumacher calls to her dog, Fonzie, and the dog retreats; the dog’s interest in the newcomer is satisfied with a glance at the familiar face.

Schumacher, who coaches six days a week, smiles and greets the new arrival with, “Hi, I haven’t seen you in a while.  I’m so happy you’re here.”  The cheery greetings continue as other weightlifters make their way into the gym, picking up the week’s programming from a stack of papers on Schumacher’s desk and silently selecting training platforms.

With her dedication and enthusiasm, Schumacher is representative of the fresh, new energy that has infused USA Weightlifting and is ushering in a new era of hope for the sport.

According to Vance Newgard, head coach of the Olympic Training Site at Northern Michigan University, “The largest problem plaguing the sport of weightlifting in the United States today is a lack of hope.  People don’t believe that American weightlifters can bring home Olympic medals.”

Coaches like Schumacher are working to change this.

Early Years

Schumacher began her journey eight years ago when a friend introduced her to CrossFit.  She was instantly drawn to the Olympic lifts and sought out coaching and education opportunities.  In just a few short years, Schumacher was a certified USA Weightlifting coach with her own group of athletes.  She is now the head coach at Proven Strength and Conditioning, where she trains athletes six hours a day, six days a week.

Grassroots Director

In addition to coaching, Schumacher assists USA Weightlifting at the organization level.  She can be seen at most national competitions, serving as a marshall, referee, speaker, timer or whatever else needs doing.  Schumacher is a USAW National Level Coach, as well as an IWF National Referee.  Recently, she was elected to USA Weightlifting’s Board of Directors, where she serves as the Grassroots Director.

As the Grassroots Director, Schumacher represents the club owners to USA Weightlifting and votes at board meetings on their behalf.  Schumacher explains, “I act as a resource for club owners, and I also convey the ‘word on the street.’  People come up to me at meets and give me ideas, which I report to the board of directors.”

 

10-year old, Ryan, is training to set a new Utah state record for his weight class at an upcoming competition.

Coaching with Confidence

Throughout the self-guided practice, Schumacher patrols the room, attending to lifters as they need guidance.  She is particularly mindful of the younger lifters and spends most of her time instructing and correcting their movements.  “Weightlifting is an excellent tool for teaching kids how to deal with failure.  Many parents are so protective of their kids that they don’t want them to fail.  In fact, we want our kids to fail so that we can teach them how to deal with failure in a healthy, positive way.  Weightlifting gives kids an opportunity to fail and succeed over and over again.”

Schumacher’s favorite part about coaching, however, is instilling confidence in her lifters: “When you challenge yourself physically, you have confidence that other people don’t have.  That confidence can’t be beat.  I love the fact that people can find that in weightlifting.  For me personally, my favorite part is watching people’s confidence explode.”

After training with Schumacher for two weeks, I gathered the following tips that could be useful to other coaches:

  • Use Positivity.  Throughout her training sessions, Schumacher remained optimistic and positive, even when her lifters made misses or were having a bad day.  Schumacher explained, “Weightlifters are optimists.  We always feel like things will be better tomorrow.”  Schumacher’s attitude transferred to her lifters, who consistently put their best efforts into each lift.
  • Unilateral Work.  Schumacher is a big believer in exercises that bring balance to the body.  She explained that almost all weightlifters are stronger on one side of their bodies, and that corrective exercises should be performed to bring the weaker side up to the level of the strong side.  She uses exercises such as single leg box jumps and single leg triple jumps to achieve this.
  • Create Opportunities for Competition.  Schumacher pointed out that kids—especially boys—love to compete.  Coaches can keep their training fun by creating competitive opportunities for their athletes.
  • Volunteer!  If you want to be a better coach, you should observe other good coaches.  Schumacher explains, “I like working in the back [as a marshall].  It is a great place to learn.  I get to watch good coaches interact with their athletes.  I get to see how they warm up their athletes and prepare them for competition.  I get to see how the best athletes go out onto the platform.”
Youth lifter, Gavin (right), gets advice from Will, a senior lifter. Gavin participates in several sports, but he especially enjoys weightlifting because of the individual instruction he receives and the ability to constantly test his limits.

As I left the gym–ten minutes after practice ended–Schumacher was still working with athletes, intent on helping them regardless of the time required.  I smiled, realizing that the future of weightlifting will remain bright as long as coaches like Schumacher are involved.

 

Is Undertraining the Secret to Success?

In the past month, I have had the opportunity to speak to the coaches of two of the most accomplished youth weightlifters in the United States—Kevin Simons (Harrison Maurus’s coach) and Ray Jones (C.J. Cumming’s coach). When asked about their athletes’ training, I listened in eager anticipation: I expected to hear tales of grueling training sessions, intensely heavy loads, and long hours spent in training. I was surprised by what I heard instead.

Coach Simons reported that he limits his athletes’ attempts above 90% and that Maurus went three years without missing a clean in training. Three YEARS without missing a clean?! A weightlifter who goes three years without missing a clean is clearly undertraining.

In a separate conversation, Ray Jones, coach of four-time World Champion C.J. Cummings, made a disturbing observation about a recent national competition. Jones remarked that of the 14 athletes in the warm-up room with C.J., all 14 of the other athletes were working through injuries.

Coach Jones expounded, “Injuries are a big problem with what is going on in the U.S. A lot of that stems from athletes trying to follow programming that is too rigorous for them. It is important for athletes to follow individualized plans, listen to their bodies, and not necessarily pound the lifts all of the time.”

Jones continued, “I want my kids to be undertrained. I want them to be able to continue in the sport for as long as they would like—and even return to the sport in their older years. To do this, I need to train them so that they don’t get injured. I want my athletes to have longevity in the sport both physically and mentally.”

Given that both Simons and Jones undertrain their athletes, perhaps this is something the rest of the community should consider.

What is undertraining?

Undertraining occurs when a weightlifter:

  • Trains at below maximal loads
  • Stops training before muscles, tendons and joints are overworked
  • Takes time off from training to allow muscles recover

Undertraining is NOT:

  • Working with weights that are not challenging
  • Abandoning an exercise because it is hard to do
  • Blowing off training because you just don’t feel like it

These are all examples of lazy training, which is not the same as under training!

Why is undertraining so effective?

Injuries stop progress. Overtraining leads to overuse injuries, which are microtraumatic damage to a bone, muscle, or tendon that has been exposed to repetitive stress without sufficient time to heal or repair.  When an athlete is injured, he must take time off to recover or train with lighter loads until the injury has healed. During the healing process, the athlete is not making strength gains. Undertraining reduces the likelihood of injury; this allows an athlete to make strength gains while his overworked peers are sitting on the bench nursing injuries.

Up to 50% of all injuries seen in pediatric sports medicine are related to overuse.

Overtraining leads to burnout. Burnout happens when an athlete is not allowed sufficient time to rest or participate in other activities. Burnout, also referred to as overtraining syndrome, manifests as lack of enthusiasm, personality changes, fatigue, chronic or nonspecific muscle or joint pain, and even difficulty performing normal routines.

Performance plateaus without rest. To improve as an athlete, you must work hard. However, training hard breaks down muscle and makes you weaker. To become stronger, your body must rest. During rest periods, the body rebuilds its cardiovascular and muscular systems by increasing capillaries in the muscles, improving the efficiency of the heart, and increasing glycogen stores and mitochondrial enzyme systems within the muscle cells. The result is a higher level of athletic performance. If an athlete does not get sufficient rest after training hard, however, the body cannot rebuild itself, and performance plateaus. If this imbalance persists, performance will actually decline!

More productive training. A well-rested, recovered athlete will be able to train harder than an exhausted, overworked athlete. Weightlifting is a sport that emphasizes technical proficiency in compound movements that are performed over milliseconds. Without adequate rest, these movements cannot be performed properly.

Longevity. The ultimate goal in training a youth athlete is to produce a disciplined, well-adjusted adult who appreciates the importance of fitness and can handle competitive pressures. Some sports, such as weightlifting, offer the additional bonus of lifelong participation. If a weightlifter does not hurt himself, he can continue to enjoy competitive weightlifting well into his retirement years. In fact, in the U.S. alone, there are over 3,600 athletes over the age of 35 who are competitive weightlifters.

What is the best way to undertrain?

Prepare an Individualized Plan. Coach Jones is a big fan of individualized training plans. According to Jones, athletes who try to follow cookie-cutter plans often get injured because these plans are designed for athletes at a higher level of athletic ability. Jones says, “I’m not going to be arrogant and say that my way is the only way. Several ways work. The important thing is to examine each athlete’s strengths and weaknesses and do what works for that person.”

Listen to your body. As an athlete, it takes self-discipline to stick to a training plan when you don’t feel like training. It takes even more discipline, however, to stop training when your body is injured. Training with an injury doesn’t lead to big gains; it just sets you up for even bigger injuries. Coach Jones advises: “Don’t be so intent on following the programming to the detriment of your body. If you’re hurting, don’t do the exercise!”

Focus on Quality over Quantity. Every time a weightlifter performs a lift, he creates muscle memory in the lift. Over time, the weightlifter no longer thinks about how he will perform the lift; it just happens. And the lift “happens” the same way in competition as in training. So, it is far better to perform a small number of quality repetitions in a training session than a large volume of haphazard lifts.

Step Away from the Barbell. After big competitions, Coach Jones gives his athletes a week off from training. When they return to the gym, the athletes ease back into training with exercises that do not involve the Olympic lifts. Coach Jones is particularly fond of core exercises. Taking time off from traditional barbell work brings variety into training, reduces boredom and fatigue, and allows the body time to recover before the next training cycle.

Take Time to Recover. Coach Jones trains his athletes five days per week, allowing them to rest for two full days each week. The American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness similarly recommends limiting 1 sporting activity to a maximum of 5 days per week with at least 1 day off from any organized physical activity.  Interestingly, elite CrossFit coach, Ben Bergeron, who coaches CrossFit Games winners, Katrin Davidsdottir and Matt Fraser, subscribes to the same philosophy. Bergeron programs Thursdays and Sundays as rest days for his athletes.

Still concerned that you won’t make gains if you undertrain?

Don’t worry! As a youth weightlifter, time is on your side. You have years before you reach your potential, which means you have plenty of time to figure out exactly what works for you. In the meantime, always err on the side of undertraining to ward off aches and pains and keep yourself injury-free.

 

Coaching Harrison Maurus: An Interview with Kevin Simons

USA Weightlifting held a technique training seminar on Friday, June 22, in conjunction with the 2017 National Youth Championships.  The seminar featured youth world record holder, Harrison Maurus, Maurus’s coach, Kevin Simons, Pyrros Dimas, and Tamas Feher.  The big names drew a large crowd of athletes, parents and coaches.  Tamas Feher led the seminar, explaining the correct progression for teaching the Olympic lifts.  Pyrros Dimas offered supporting comments, and Maurus demonstrated the movements.  Simons, however, remained silent in the background.

While the seminar offered nuggets of good information, it was not what the audience expected.  The audience expected to hear Kevin Simons speak about coaching Harrison Maurus.  In six short years, Simons introduced Maurus to the sport of weightlifting and helped him achieve a new youth world record.  This is a phenomenal accomplishment, and the audience wanted to hear the secrets of this success.  I caught up with Simons after the seminar and gathered the information the audience missed:

Q: Kevin, I expected you to speak about training Harrison at this seminar.  What happened?

Simons: I was prepared to speak about training Harrison and my other athletes.  However, the opportunity did not arise.

Q: I think many people would be interested in hearing your thoughts.  What were you prepared to say at the seminar?

Simons: I was going to speak about my history with Harrison and how I train my athletes.  I take coaching very seriously, and I am always happy to share my methods with other athletes and coaches.  I feel that my methods are working—Harrison currently holds a youth world record as well as multiple American records.  Also, three of my eight athletes took first place medals here at the 2017 Youth Nationals.

Q: What is your history with Harrison?

Simons: I started out as Harrison’s gymnastics coach.  Harrison was a good gymnast, but he was not a perfect fit for the sport.  I knew that Harrison had great potential as an athlete, though, and I wanted to help him develop this potential.  I am a competitive CrossFit athlete, and I started teaching Harrison weightlifting.  First, we experimented with powerlifting.  Then, we decided to try the Olympic lifts. In fact, Harrison was the first athlete I ever taught to do a snatch or clean and jerk.  Harrison was a natural, and we have been together ever since.  It has been amazing to grow with him as a coach and to travel the world together.

At the 2017 Youth World Championships in Bangkok in April 2017, 17 year-old Maurus (77kg) claimed a new youth world record with a 192kg clean and jerk.  Maurus finished 2nd overall in the snatch, 1st in the clean and jerk, and 1st in the total.

Q: What makes your coaching different than other weightlifting coaches?

Simons: I want my kids to be well-rounded, healthy athletes, not just good weightlifters.  In addition to teaching weightlifting movements, I teach my athletes how to eat properly and rest to maximize their performance.  I also teach them exercises that will benefit their overall athleticism, and not just their weightlifting abilities.

Q: What do you tell your athletes about eating?

Simons: I begin with the basics.  I teach my athletes what a balanced meal should look like.  Each meal should include some protein, carbohydrates, and fat.  A portion of protein should be about the size of the palm of your hand.  A portion of carbohydrates should fit within a cupped hand.  A portion of fat should be about the size of your thumb.  If an athlete needs to cut weight, about 50% of the diet should be vegetables.  If an athlete does not need to cut weight, only about 25% of the diet needs to be vegetables.  I try to keep things simple so that my athletes can easily implement healthy eating into their lives.  Good nutrition is very important to athletic performance, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.

In specific situations, I work with my athletes to develop tailored meal plans.  Also, I encourage my new athletes to weigh and measure their foods for a couple of weeks until they understand the proper portion sizes for their bodies.

Simons competed in the 2012 and 2015 CrossFit Games.

Q: You mentioned using non-weightlifting exercises in your training.  Why do you do this?

Simons:  I am a big advocate of GPP (general physical preparedness).  I want my weightlifters, especially the younger ones, to be exposed to a variety of movements.  Until about age 12, kids should be involved in a variety of sports and doing a variety of movements.  They should be running, jumping, lifting, pulling, climbing, throwing, tumbling—doing things to develop their bodies generally.  Of course they can also be learning the competitive lifts, but this should not be the primary focus.  Around age 12 or 13, those kids who decide to lift competitively can begin a more structured weightlifting program.  However, GPP is still important for competitive weightlifters.

Q: What GPP exercises do you use?

Simons:  I use a variety of movements.  I especially like pulling exercises like rope climbs, sled pulls, strict muscle ups, and peg boards to develop the shoulders.  Some of my female athletes can perform 6+ consecutive legless rope climbs.  I feel that this accessory work gives my athletes an edge when it comes to overhead movements.  Their shoulders are very strong.

Q: What does your weightlifting training look like?

Simons: My beginner lifters do a lot of drills emphasizing position and movement.  I reinforce movement patterns through a large number of reps and sets.  I require lifters to consistently perform the movements properly before I allow them to move on to higher weights.  I also include a lot of jumping exercises and plenty of GPP.

Q: What about your advanced lifters?

Simons: When a lifter has developed the muscle memory to consistently perform the snatch and clean and jerk well, I allow them to add more weight.  I don’t limit the weight as long as the lifter can demonstrate good form.  However, I do limit the number of attempts my lifters make above 90%.  My lifters are youth lifters, which means that they should have long weightlifting careers in front of them if they don’t get injured.  I do not allow my athletes to train through an injury, so the best course of action for everyone is to prevent injuries from happening.  We save singles and max out attempts for competitions and the weeks leading up to a competition.  We work mostly in sets of 2 or 3 reps, which allows the lifters to build strength without over-stressing the joints.

Q: Do your elite level lifters receive extra training or advice?

Simons: Of course.  As lifters approach the senior level, different issues arise, such as overtraining.  It becomes necessary to fine tune nutrition, recovery, and training.  Periodization in training becomes more important.

Q: You mentioned that you don’t allow your lifters to go over 90% very often.  At what percentage do you normally train?

Simons: I don’t specify percentages in daily training.  Youth weightlifters are developing strength so quickly that percentages are not generally helpful.  What could be a weightlifter’s max one month could be their 75% the next.  I find it more helpful to specify a starting weight for each lifter.  I allow the lifter to add weight with each subsequent set, as their technique allows.  If a lifter’s technique breaks down, the lifter is not allowed to go up in weight.

This approach sets my weightlifters up for success in competition.  Since my lifters are always required to lift with good technique, they do not make many misses in training.  In fact, Harrison went three years without missing a clean. Because my lifters practice making their lifts—not missing their lifts—they go into each competition lift expecting success.  And usually, they are successful.

Q: How often do your lifters compete?

Simons: I limit the number of competitions we attend.  All of my lifters love to compete, but competitions break up the training schedule.  Each competition requires a ramp-up period and a recovery period, which takes away from building strength.  My athletes perform better—physically and mentally—when we take on a smaller number of competitions.

Q: What advice would you give to other coaches who are trying to develop youth weightlifting programs?

Simons: Seek out “feeder” opportunities.  For instance, I work with a gymnastics center, offering strength and conditioning training to competitive gymnasts.  Some of these gymnasts fall in love with weightlifting and become members of my team.  It is also good if you can create training partnerships—a pair of athletes that can push each other.  Harrison works with a 105+ lifter who pushes him to lift heavier weights.  Also, it is great if you can create a positive competitive atmosphere.  Create opportunities for kids to compete against each other daily in the gym.

Q: What are your personal goals as a coach?

Simons: I want to become the best weightlifting coach in America.

With his attention to detail and dedication to his athletes, Simons is well on his way to achieving his goal.

 

The Gift of Coaching: An Interview with Dennis Espinosa

Coach Dennis Espinosa, of Salina, Kansas is a well-known name in U.S. weightlifting.  Espinosa has been a weightlifting coach for over 20 years, is an International Weightlifting Federation Category I Referee and has coached numerous athletes to the national and international levels.  In this interview, Espinosa talks about the benefits of youth weightlifting, the challenges of coaching and the transformation of the sport over the past 20 years.

Q: When did you first become involved in weightlifting?

A: My mother was a fan of weightlifting in the Olympic Games.  I remember watching the 1976 Games with her on TV and sharing her excitement for the sport.  There were no Olympic weightlifting opportunities available to me at the time, but I was very interested in the sport.  In my late teens, I got involved in powerlifting and bodybuilding.  I continued these sports when I opened my own gym in 1988.  In 1997, I turned my attention to Olympic weightlifting and became a sanctioned club with USA weightlifting.

Q: Tell me about your weightlifting program.

A: I currently coach 16 youth athletes in two separate programs.  My competitive program is called Reps and Sets Team Salina.  Right now, I train eight competitive weightlifters in this program.  I also run a strength and conditioning program through the Parks & Rec department.  The athletes in this program receive general strength training.  I use the strength and conditioning program as a feeder program for my competitive team.  It helps me identify athletes with the interest and talent to succeed in competitive weightlifting.  Also, involvement with the Parks and Rec department gives me a free place to train my competitive team!

Q: What does your typical training session look like?

A: I begin with Coaching Corner, where I gather all of my athletes together and give them an overview of what we will be doing that day.  Then, we perform a General Warm Up and a Specific Warm Up, which includes core and stability exercises as well as skill transfer drills. Finally, we proceed into the Olympic lifts.

Q: What benefits does weightlifting offer to youth?

A: Weightlifting requires a tremendous amount of discipline.  Kids who stick with the sport learn to organize themselves, become self-reliant, and control their minds and bodies.

Q: Why do you like working with youth athletes?

A: Training a new weightlifter is like unwrapping a gift.  You don’t know what talent a child holds until you begin working with him.  I enjoy training all types of weightlifters—high energy ones, quiet ones—it is always an adventure figuring out how to motivate and get the best out of each lifter.

Q: What is the hardest thing about being a coach?

A: When lifters leave.  A good coach invests himself in each of his athletes.  He learns their personalities, what motivates them, and how to develop them into the best versions of themselves.  When athletes leave—for whatever reason—it is heartbreaking.

Q: You’ve spent 20 years coaching Olympic weightlifting.  In this time, the sport has completely transformed.  To what do you attribute this?

A: Olympians always increase awareness and interest for a sport.  So, having weightlifters from the U.S. in the Olympic Games has brought more attention to the sport.  CrossFit has also had a huge influence by introducing athletes to the Olympic lifts.  In fact, CrossFit is probably the best thing that has happened to the sport of weightlifting!

Q: What is different about the sport of weightlifting now than when you started?

A: Young coaches are able to develop their athletes much more successfully now than when I started.  This has put the sport in a better position.  There are now more talented youth weightlifters than ever before in the U.S.

 

Q: Why is this?

A: USA Weightlifting’s coaching curriculum is better developed in recent days.  Coaches better understand how to motivate athletes, program, and deal with the mental aspects of coaching.  Also, information on weightlifting is more readily available and shared.

 

Q: What advice would you give to new weightlifting coaches?

A: Become a referee.  As a coach, it is absolutely essential to know the rules of the sport.  The information you gain in the referee courses will benefit your athletes and give you a better understanding of the sport.  Soon after becoming a weightlifting coach, I became a referee.  The information I gained in the referee courses has made me a better coach.

Also, compliment your lifters regularly.  Don’t tear them down; always build them up.