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:

Combatting Perfectionism in Weightlifting

I recently observed an athlete perform 20 power jerks, 10 split jerks, 25 clean and jerks, 6 minutes of plank holds, and then finish by completing 120 dumbbell thrusters at 60% of bodyweight.  All of the athlete’s work was technically sound, and the athlete made no misses despite going up to 90% on the clean and jerks.

Even so, the athlete was not happy at the end of training.  The athlete bemoaned the fact that it took 15 minutes and 10 seconds to complete the thrusters, when it should have only taken 15 minutes.  The athlete denied himself the satisfaction of completing a rigorous workout by fixating on what he could have done better.

Perhaps you have this problem, too.

Do you regularly think . . .

  • Nothing good comes from making mistakes.
  • I must do things right the first time.
  • I must do everything well, not just the things I am good at.
  • If I can’t do something perfectly, there is no point trying.

Or do you often . . .

  • Have difficulty completing work on time because you are so concerned about getting one task done perfectly?
  • Refuse to take credit for doing well because there is always something more you could do?

If so, perfectionism might be something you want to work on.

Wesley Cravy, head coach of Pivotal Weightlifting Club in California and Applied Sports Psychology consultant, shares his insights on helping weightlifters who struggle with perfectionism:

What is perfectionism?

Perfectionism is a personality style characterized by striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards accompanied by tendencies for overly critical evaluations of one’s behavior.

Why is perfectionism so bad?

  • Striving for perfection can increase anxiety and decrease self-confidence.
  • Perfectionism can trap you in an unhelpful cycle of thoughts, physical sensations, emotions and behavioral impulses.
  • Perfectionists are often LESS successful than non-perfectionists because the fear of mistakes makes it hard to be creative, innovative or open to new ideas.

As a weightlifter, perfection is not realistic, nor is it necessary!  Technical proficiency makes it easier to lift a heavy barbell, but it is not evaluated in competition.  An ugly lift will get three white lights just as easily as a beautiful lift–assuming both lifts comply with the rules of the sport.

What can I do to control my perfectionism?

 Take a day-by-day approach.  Let go of the need to be perfect and simply strive to do better each day.

Keep a training journal.  At the end of each training session, take note of the positive attributes of your session. If it was a terrible day and 80% felt like 100%, record your resilience and ability to push through even though you were clearly fatigued.  In your notes, make positive comments on what you want to focus on when you revisit the training day the following week.

Be flexible and realistic.  You will rarely train under perfect circumstances.  When you can’t hit the percentages designated in the training plan, make adjustments and just keep working.  Time spent training will make you a better weightlifter regardless of whether you follow your training plan exactly.

Celebrate your victories.  Suppose your goal for a competition was to take home a first place medal.  You didn’t meet this goal, but you still went 6-for-6 or made a new personal best on one of your lifts.  Take satisfaction in your performance!

As a coach, how can I help my athletes who struggle with perfectionism?

Utilize Imagery.  Imagery is the use of images to visualize or enhance performance.  It activates the same neurophysiological pathway as physical exertion.  Imagery does not guarantee success, but it clinically shows an increase in performance and is used by professional athletes to immediately combat anxiety.

How do I use imagery with my athletes?

  1. Use imagery in training sessions.  Imagery is a learned skill and will not produce the desired result if applied for the first time in competition.
  2. As your athlete is performing a dynamic warm up, encourage the athlete to take 3 minutes to visualize the barbell warm up and any exercises the athlete will be performing that day.
  3. As the athlete enters the pre-competition phase, a nightly visual walk through of the event should be done. The athlete should visualize the upcoming event from warm up to last lift.  The athlete should see, smell, feel and reflect a confident positive analysis of the event. This is best done after a 3-5 minute breathing/relaxation technique. Once thoughts become cloudy, distracted, or negative, cease the exercise and use positive words to end the session.
  4. During warms up, both in training and competition, keep the visualization short–around three minutes.  You don’t want to completely eliminate the athlete’s anxiety.  Somatic anxiety is actually helpful to an athlete’s performance. Symptoms of somatic anxiety include experiencing butterflies, sweating, heavy breathing or an elevated heart rate.  Visualization is intended to combat cognitive anxiety, which includes negative thoughts, feelings of apprehension or nervousness.
  5. At competition, encourage your athlete to focus on the current task and only that.  The athlete should focus on visualizing the current lift.  When that lift is complete, the athlete must erase the last lift and focus completely on the next lift.

Take a problem focused avoidance approach.  When you see your athlete becoming overwhelmed, encourage the athlete to block out everything except for the task at hand.  This is especially critical at competitions when an athlete misses a lift.  You must help the athlete put the missed lift behind and focus on the next lift.  Focusing on the last missed lift will only facilitate a decline in performance.

Help your athlete keep perspective.  You know your athlete’s numbers and abilities.  Don’t let other competitors rob your athlete of feeling satisfied at a competition.  Enter the competition with a game plan.  Execute the plan.  And then leave satisfied, knowing that you accomplished your goals.

Cover Photo by Viviana Podhaiski of Everyday Lifters.










Secrets of the Squat

Has your squat stalled out?  Are your lifts limited by weak legs?  If so, you might be thinking . . . I need to squat more!  More weight, more reps, more days per week, more leg-related accessory work, etc.  However, the real secret to success may be the opposite.

I spoke recently to coaches of some of the leading young Olympic weightlifters in the United States: Ray Jones (coach of C.J. Cummings, Youth World Record holder), Kevin Simons (coach of Harrison Maurus, Youth World Record holder), and Tripp Morris (coach of Hampton Morris, who holds youth American records in both Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting).  All three athletes have tremendously strong squats compared to their peers.

These three coaches work independently of one another, but all three follow these two guidelines:

Less is More: Harrison squats three days per week.  Hampton and C.J. both squat two days per week.  Hampton’s coach, Tripp, explains, “You’ve got to give your muscles and your central nervous system time to recover.”

Put another way, if you don’t give your muscles time to rest and rebuild, you can’t make gains.

Muscular overtraining occurs when muscles are not given enough time to repair themselves between training sessions.  For instance, if you squat heavy on Monday and then attempt heavy squats again on Tuesday, you run the risk of overtraining, which may lead to injury rather than gains.

Similarly, overtraining the central nervous system (CNS) occurs when you stack workout upon workout, stressing and fatiguing the whole body.  CNS overtraining causes an athlete to be weaker and slower in all movements and reduces their force generation capacity.  Athletes can recover their strength and power by resting sufficiently between workouts.

To keep the gains coming, avoid overtraining the muscles or the CNS.

Failure Training:  All three coaches encourage extra reps on the last set of squats.  For instance, if you have sets of five programmed for the day, make the last set of squats a 5+ set.  Sometimes an athlete will only achieve five reps on this set, but often he or she will achieve more.

Training to failure is one way to stimulate muscle growth.  In a 2013 study, Brad Schoenfeld, M.Sc., CSCS, demonstrated that greater increases in lactic acid in muscle are critical for muscle growth because they trigger increases in intramuscular growth factors.1  Failure training causes lactic acid and fatigue metabolites to accumulate in the muscles, setting the stage for muscle growth.

Failure training is especially appropriate for young lifters because it can build muscle with lighter loads, reducing stress on the joints.

However, More is not Better!  Failure training on the last set of an exercise promotes muscle growth.  However, training to failure on every set actually hinders muscle growth.  Spanish researcher Dr. Mikel Izquierdo found that training to failure on every set measurably increased resting levels of the catabolic hormone cortisol and suppressed anabolic growth factors such as IGF-1.2 This suggests that athletes who take every set to failure risk hindering long-term growth.


A variation of failure training includes fatiguing the muscles and then immediately performing a movement that requires those muscles.  For instance, the video above shows Coach Jones’ athlete, Dade Stanley, doing snatches right after a high volume of medium-weight squats.  This combination helps build Stanley’s legs without taxing his joints with heavy weights.

Photo Credit to Hilary Clarke and CrossFit Pace Patriot Pride


  1. Schoenfeld, Brad J. “Potential Mechanisms for a Role of Metabolic Stress in Hypertrophic Adaptations to Resistance Training.” Sports Medicine 43, no. 3 (2013): 179-94. doi:10.1007/s40279-013-0017-1.
  2. Shrier, I. “Differential effects of strength training leading to failure versus not to failure on hormonal responses, strength, and muscle power gains.” Yearbook of Sports Medicine 2007 (January 12, 2006): 99-100. doi:10.1016/s0162-0908(08)70094-1.















Should Girls Train Differently?

The sport of weightlifting is the same for males and females. At competitions each athlete executes six lifts: three in the snatch and three in the clean & jerk. An athlete’s total score is determined by adding the highest successful snatch and the highest successful clean & jerk.

So, if competitions are the same for males and females, shouldn’t they also train the same way?

Not according to Anna Martin, president of the Missouri Valley Weightlifting Association. Coach Martin, owner of Kansas City Weightlifting, knows a little about female weightlifters. Now a Masters weightlifter, Anna began weightlifting at 14-years old. In the course of her career, she made two international teams, participated in a World Team trials, and was the first alternate in the Olympic team trials. She has also coached at some of the most reputable weightlifting facilities in the country, including the Olympic Training Center and Northern Michigan University.

Anna currently coaches a number of successful weightlifters, including Janelle Schafer (63 kg), winner of the 2017 American Open Finals in Anaheim, California.

Coach Martin has observed over years that female weightlifters perform better with a higher volume of repetitions than their male counterparts. Says Martin:

My female lifters perform better when I keep the volume high. In practice, I always program doubles for the snatch and clean & jerk and sets of 5 or more for squats. Even when a lifter is going for a max, I make them double it.

If we are not in a major competition, I make my female lifters double everything in the warm up area.

I think girls perform better on the platform and recover better with more reps.

What does this mean for you?

As a coach, try giving your female athletes more volume in their workouts. Be careful, however, not to overwork the joints through a combination of heavy weights and high volume.  Increasing the number of reps may require backing off the weight on the barbell.




Photo Credit: Lifting.Life


Programming Pointers from Hassle Free Barbell

A good coach is always searching for the best tools for his athletes.  One tool is the plan, or program, used to develop an athlete.  A good program generates growth while keeping the athlete injury-free.  As mentioned in an earlier article, a weightlifting program is not like a cookie cutter.  A plan designed for one athlete will not produce the same results for another athlete because each athlete is different.  However, experienced coaches have some tried and true methods for producing good results.

In this article, Kevin Doherty, personal coach of Olympian, Jenny Arthur, and coach of Hassle Free Barbell Club in San Francisco, California shares some pointers for creating a successful plan:

Coach Doherty, pictured with Olympian Jenny Arthur, knows what it takes to create a successful weightlifter.

Use warm up exercises to transition into the lifts.  Doherty’s lifters progress into the Olympic lifts with a series of exercises.  For example, on a day with a snatch emphasis, the program might include:

Snatch Push Press + Overhead Squat: 6 sets x 3 reps (up to 80% of snatch)

Snatch Pull from the Knee + Snatch from Knee:  6 sets x 2 reps (50-70% of snatch)

Snatch Pull + Snatch: 4 sets x 1 rep (80% of snatch)

Snatch: 2 sets x 2 reps (80%)

Mix it Up.  Change up your weightlifting complexes regularly.  Complexes are a great way to increase intensity without increasing weight on the barbell.  They are also a great way to keep your lifters from getting bored.  Some of Doherty’s complexes include:

Power Jerk + Overhead Squat

Clean + Front Squat + Jerk

Snatch Push Press + Overhead Squat

Front Squat + Press

You do not have to work the Olympic lifts every day.  Weightlifting is all about the snatch and clean & jerk.  However, you can step away from the full lifts during some training sessions to focus on a specific muscle group.  For example, a training day with a shoulder emphasis might look like this:

Back Squat: 6 sets of 3 (75%)

Push Press: 6 sets of 3 (75%)

Power Jerk: 6 sets of 3 (75%)

Jerk: 6 sets of 3 (75%)

Romanian Deadlifts: 6 sets of 3 (75%)

Hassle Free lifter, Seth Tom, is one of the best youth weightlifters in the U.S. He holds all three American Youth records for the 50 kg weight class, including an impressive 98 kg Clean and Jerk.

Accessory Work Counts.  Finish weightlifting sessions with some accessory work.  Hassle Free lifters perform movements such as:

Sit Ups (5 sets of 20)

Tricep Extensions (5 sets of 10)

Rows (5 sets of 10)

Pull Ups (5 max effort sets)

Romanian Twists (5 sets of 20)

Glute Ham Raises (5 sets of 10)

Mobility Matters.  Flexibility is important for success as a weightlifter.  It wards off injuries and allows a lifter to execute the lifts efficiently.  Try these movements at the end of your training sessions:

Wrist rolls (5 sets of 10)

Bridges (5 sets of 20)

Foam Rolling (legs, back)

Keep workouts under 90 minutes.  Coach Doherty has produced numerous record holding youth weightlifters.  He says, “It is very rare that any of our record holders train for more than 90 minutes daily.”


Photo Credit: Viviana Podhaiski at Lifting.Life



















Umm . . . We don’t DO that

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

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

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

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

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

So, instead I consented to the panda pulls.



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



Should you start doing panda pulls?

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

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

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


Creating Champions: The Garage Strength Way

Dane Miller, owner of Garage Strength in Pennsylvania, coaches some of the most successful young weightlifters in the United States today.  Miller’s athletes have claimed national and international weightlifting medals and include members of USA Weightlifting’s Junior National Team.  Five of Miller’s athletes were on Team USA’s 20-person team at the 2017 Junior World Championships in Tokyo.  Miller’s athletes have stunning resumes, including:

  • Hailey Reichardt: Bronze medal winner at the 2016 Youth World Weightlifting Championships and silver medalist at the 2017 Junior Pan American Championships
  • Jordan Wissinger: 2017 Junior Pan American Championship, silver medal in snatch, bronze medals in clean and jerk and total
  • Jacob Horst: 2016 Senior National Weightlifting Champion
  • Juliana Rotto: 5th place at the 2016 American Open, 5th place at 2016 Junior National Championship
  • Kate Wehr: member of Team USA’s 2017 Youth Pan American Squad

If a coach has a single successful athlete, he is a lucky coach.  If a coach has an entire team of successful athletes, he is doing something right.

What is the secret to Miller’s phenomenal success?  

First consider a few things . . .

  • Coach Miller was never a competitive weightlifter himself.  Miller was a skilled collegiate shot putter and lifted weights as part of his training, but he did not enter the world of competitive weightlifting until one of his athletes expressed interest in competing in the sport.
  • Garage Strength is located in one of the poorest areas of the U.S.  With 41.3 percent of its residents living below the poverty line, Reading, Pa., is the poorest U.S. city with a population of 65,000 or more.  So, Miller’s athletes do not come from privileged backgrounds.
  • Miller only began training competitive weightlifters five years ago.  In 2012, one of Miller’s athletes expressed interest in lifting weights competitively.  Miller jumped in with both feet and helped this athlete achieve success, securing a spot on an international team within only 1 year.

Given Miller’s disadvantages, how has he been so successful in developing his athletes?

  1. Miller only trains athletes that are “all in.”  Miller was a champion thrower himself, and he wants to train athletes that are serious about success.  To ensure that he and his athletes are working toward the same goals, Miller has frequent conversations with them.  If athletes are unsure about what they want, Miller encourages them to take some time off to think about it.  Once an athlete commits, Miller expects them to work hard to achieve their goals.
  2. Miller respects the goals of his athletes.  Miller trains weightlifters, throwers, and wrestlers.  He wants to train hardworking athletes with big dreams.  However, Miller does not try to convert all of his athletes into weightlifters.  Instead, Miller listens to his athletes and provides them with the best training to reach their goals.  Even if an athlete has the potential to become a great weightlifter, if the athlete has no passion for the sport, Miller knows it is better for the athlete to pursue another sport.
  3. Miller provides his athletes with the tools they need to succeed.  Miller knows that athletic success involves more than training.  He educates his athletes on all matters related to their sport.  He teaches them about recovery, mobility, and good nutrition.  When Miller can’t find a good tool for his athletes, he creates one.  In fact, Miller created Earth Fed Muscle, a line of nutritional supplements, for his own athletes.  Miller noticed that many protein powders on the market contained ingredients that could flag his athletes during drug tests.  He wanted a pure product that he could trust.  So he made one.

    Earth Fed Muscle has become popular amongst weightlifters, including youth weightlifters such as CJ Cummings and Harrison Maurus.
  4. Miller is a mentor for his athletes.  According to Miller: “It’s not just about lifting; it’s about what you’re going to do or be after you’re done.  I want to make champions, but I also want to make people who will positively impact society in other ways.”  Miller recounts mistakes he made in his own career and wishes that he had someone to guide him during his difficult years.  Miller tries to be that mentor for his athletes.

How can you apply some of Miller’s methods to your athletes?

  • Talk to your athletes.  Instead of telling your athletes what they should be achieving, ask them what they want to achieve.  You might be surprised by their answers.  And you’ll definitely create more motivated athletes when the athletes feel like they are pursuing their goals and not yours.
  • Treat each athlete as an individual.  It takes more work to deliver individualized programming and education.  However, your athletes will perform better when they have tools that are tailored to them.
  • Constantly search for the best resources for your athletes.  Remember that success is more than just time spent in the gym.  Research the best recovery methods, nutrition, and mobility exercises for your athletes.  If you don’t have expertise on a topic, find someone who does.
  • Be the coach you wish you had.  Think of the attributes of the best coaches—the coaches you wish you had—and strive to be like them.


















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.







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.