Common Sense: Approach to CJ Cummings’ Training
by Edward Baker
American Weightlifting is flourishing with talent, and it could be argued that CJ Cummings is the front runner for what appears to be a Renaissance for the sport. My first memory of CJ is him lifting at a meet about four years back in Flowery Branch, Georgia where he Clean & Jerked 96 kg weighing 48 kg (double bodyweight). I had thought to myself, “how would you train someone that young with that much talent”? A couple of weekends ago at the American Open I got the chance to sit down with Ray Jones, who has been CJ’s coach since day one, and want to share bits of his training philosophy that he sums up as: Common sense.
Listening to Your Body
This is commonly overlooked. As Ray said to me, a lifter needs to listen to their body and the signals that it elicits, and this becomes especially important as they start handling heavier weights. “Little things become big things when you try to push through them”.
A question that I’ve heard John Coffee ask his lifters before every workout is “How do you feel today”? The training would then be based on the lifter’s response, coupled with the context of where the athlete was in their training cycle and how the warmups appeared. There is certainly a phenomenon that happens from time to time when a person is feeling completely run down when they enter the gym, but once they start lifting they seem to be in top shape (My best Snatch in training to date was done on a day that I was tired and getting light headed just warming up with the bar) but these days are the exception, not the norm.
When there are aches and ailments, it’s more sensible to train around the injury and to ‘live to see another day’, than it is to push through and possibly worsen the injury to the point that you can’t train at all. Ray is very particular about this, and saves his lifter’s heaviest lifting for the day of the meet.
When I asked Ray how many times per week CJ squats, he stated, “Everyday. He Overhead Squats, Snatch Squats, Clean Squats…” Ray was reinforcing the fact that many of the lifts we perform involve a squatting motion. When deciding the amount of times an athlete Front and Back Squats per week, one should remember that many of the exercises that are performed already involve squatting. Early on I Front and Back Squatted about everyday, and wound up with a bad case of patellar tendonitis (an overuse injury), so much of my training is predicated around limiting the amount of times I perform squatting motions each week.
Later, I rephrased my question to Ray as “How many times does CJ squat after un-racking it from a squat rack?” He replied, “about once a week, as leg strength isn’t a weakness now.” He also has CJ perform complexes involving Cleans and multiple Front Squats.
Snatch and Clean & Jerk Meets
As we were talking about his philosophy regarding squatting, Ray stated that he bases his lifter’s squat percentages off their best Clean & Jerk rather than their best Back Squat. As he sees it, we’re training to compete in the Snatch and the Clean & Jerk, not the Squat, so the training should be reflected as such. He’ll start with 100% of the athlete’s best Clean & Jerk and have them perform 5-6 sets with that weight, and will base a progression on how the squats look each time they’re performed.
Most Important Thing
Before Ray begins coaching a lifter, he prefaces it with telling them the most important thing to remember when doing this sport: Go out and have fun. If an athlete is going into a workout or a competition with big expectations about their performance, they can easily make the scenario into a bigger deal than it is; if you go about this sport by enjoying performing the lifts, and taking time to enjoy traveling, seeing friends, and enjoying the whole experience that competing in this sport entails, then you are much more likely to succeed.
I hope that lifters and coaches can find this article useful. As an athlete and as a pretend coach I can easily over-complicate training, or lose sight of the forest for the trees, as one might say. Go out and have fun, listen to your body, and use common sense.
by Edward Baker
– 70 medals at the Women’s Weightlifting Senior Worlds have been amassed by the United States. John Coffee’s lifters have earned 30 of them.
– The last Senior World Champion for the United States was Robin Byrd-Goad. Robin was coached by John.
– The first Women’s Senior Nationals took place in 1981. Since then there have been 36 Nationals contesting a Women’s division. Coffee’s Gym has won 19 of them.
All of these accomplishments, but after the 6 years I’ve spent with John, a lacking trait has manifested itself. Self-recognition.
Everyone likes to boast from time to time about their accolades, and rightfully so! You should be proud of anything you put your time into. I’ve loved to tell people about PRs that I’ve hit, people that I pretend to coach hitting PRs, it makes me feel good to share and get affirmation that I’m doing a good job. For others I’m sure it’s the same, people love to vocally exclaim how much they love their lifters, and how selfless of people they are, and how much they’ve accomplished in their time in this sport.
This boastful desire is absent in John. I trained at Coffee’s for months before I even learned that he has a women’s team. It wasn’t until a while later that I learned of the Olympians that came through there. None of this came from John’s mouth. Wear a Coffee’s Gym shirt out in public in Marietta and you’re sure to get someone to strike up a conversation, with the typical comment being “That was the place to train back in the day”.
He’s always so concerned about bettering and taking care of his lifters, and improving himself as a coach, that he has never really stopped to get acknowledged for what he’s done. When any other person would stop after an accomplishment and allow themselves to be recognized, John just goes right back to his obsession of making his lifters better, and becoming a better coach. I call this the Coffee Complex. Even those closest to John know that he isn’t one to proclaim himself as an expert, or elaborate on how much he does for his lifters. He is very much an ‘actions, not words’ kind of guy.
After 50 years of coaching in this sport without taking time off, anyone would agree for you to take all the time you need to recover. You deserve the rest. Please get well John.
Is This Rocket Science?
Recently, I read an opinion on weightlifting technique nomenclature. Here is the truncated position – “the terms first pull, second pull, pocket and triple extension – these terms do not exist in the scientific communities of weightlifting. These are simply pop culture terms of people trying to dumb down weightlifting to the masses”. The author continues by stating that weightlifting is apportioned in phases due to the pull being a continuous motion with no pause, then offers to discuss phases of the pull. At the article’s conclusion is this statement – “weightlifting is all parasympathetic nervous system and fast twitch fibers”. Typically, comments such as this are the author’s attempt to validate themselves by using big words which will undoubtedly be taken as fact by most of the target audience whose expertise lie elsewhere.
At initial glance, the contrasting statements on pull technique seem to be a minor grammatical or semantic error – first pull and second pull do not exist yet phases and periods of the pull do exist. Simple deductive reasoning brings us to the conclusion of a first phase of the pull and a second phase of the pull. I assume the overwhelming majority of true olympic lifting coaches (not the self-aggrandizing internet strength coach) would agree with the previously quoted statement “there is no pause in the pull, it is one continuous motion”. Any pause, no matter how brief, during a competition lift would be counterproductive, not to mention against the rules. We all comprehend the continuous motion of the pull – mention of this point is stating the obvious.
Do terminologies which classify the pull into teaching and training segments exist in scientific weightlifting communities? Absolutely. To argue otherwise exhibits a lack of knowledge or at the very least, a lack of simple research. Alexsei Medvedyev, author of A System of Multi-Year Training in Weightlifting writes “the first period – the pull – consists of 2 phases”. In Managing the Training of Weightlifters, Laputin and Oleshko segment the snatch into 6 phases. The Training of the Weightlifter by Roman utilizes phrases such as “first phase of the pull” and “second phase of the pull”. Tamás Fehér’s Olympic Weightlifting text categorizes the pull into “pull phase I – first pull and over pull” followed by “pull phase II – explosion and maintenance of power”. I assume agreement on the synonymy of “first pull” and “first phase of the pull”.
Now that we have established the use of pull segment terminologies amongst the scientific communities of weightlifting, we will examine the veracity of such practices in other sports.
A previous strength and speed coach whose career stints included an MLB team as well as an SEC football program, explained the segmented mechanics of a sprint – the start which comprises 2-7 steps (most sprinters cover 10m in 7 steps, Usain Bolt covers 10m in 6 steps), the transition which is characterized by a gradually elevating torso and finally the top end.
A former European Cup and American Cup bobsled athlete discussed the various phases of the sled push which can be categorized as a loaded sprint. The bobsled start is the “hit” phase during which contact is made with the sled bars. Alterations in mechanics exist based on position on the sled – brakes vs side. Following the start is the transition and top end.
Not only are movement patterns segmented for teaching and training within weightlifting, they are also segmented for teaching and training in many other sports. A complex movement pattern can be taught by utilizing both the complete range of motion as well as various segmented ranges of motion. One of my graduate school texts, Motor Control and Learning by Schmidt and Lee, validates this concept – “A very common technique for teaching motor skills is to break them down into smaller parts. This would seem to be an effective procedure when the task is very complex and cannot be grasped as a whole.” Examples of such include the separate practice of arm and leg strokes in swimming or performance of specific stunts in gymnastics that will later become part of a more complex segment. Both examples utilize partial movement pattern practice which will eventually become integrated into a more complex movement pattern.
Given the requirement of specific strength in weightlifting performance, the concept of strength gain within the component parts of snatch and clean and jerk is evaluated along with the aforementioned requirement of movement pattern proficiency. A deficit in strength when lifting a static barbell from the floor will render a suboptimal performance even within a highly proficient clean movement pattern. The same suboptimal performance will apply to an individual with an inefficient clean movement pattern who displays superfluous strength in lifting a static barbell from the floor. When faced with the former example (strength deficit), some coaches may prescribe strengthening movements intended to increase the performance when lifting a static barbell from the floor. Transfer to the clean of these strengthening movements will directly correlate with the specificity of joint angles, speed of movement and lifter-barbell center of gravity. Conversely in the latter example, building proficiency within the clean movement pattern may include training segmented portions of the clean in order to optimize the same 3 variables – joint angles, speed of movement and lifter-barbell center of gravity.
In regards to the comment on parasympathetic dominance during weightlifting (which can be easily invalidated via the Google), we will refer to my medical school text Gray’s Anatomy by Drake, Vogl and Mitchell – “the sympathetic system innervates structures in the peripheral regions of the body and viscera, the parasympathetic system is more restricted to innervation of the viscera only”. Interpretation – the sympathetic system promotes blood flow to skeletal muscle as well as secretion of adrenaline which increases heart rate. Conversely, the parasympathetic system promotes blood flow to the abdominal viscera and decreases heart rate. Draw your own conclusion as to which nervous system is dominant during weightlifting – the one which promotes digestion or the one which promotes skeletal muscle activity and adrenaline secretion.
Reading Louie Simmons’ postings on the internet and reading through his book, it seems like his basic point is that U.S. Olympic lifters spend too much time and energy perfecting their technique with not enough time and energy put into strength building.
This line of criticism of U.S. Olympic lifting is just not true. Of course U.S. Olympic lifters spend lots of time practicing various pull and squatting exercises as well as various hyperextension, good morning, and pressing exercises. Also, it should not be forgotten that snatches and clean & jerks are splendid exercises for developing strength and power themselves. It’s not all technique.
I don’t think there’s much difference in the way U.S. lifters train than the way lifters in Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle east train. The difference in the performance of the top U.S. lifters and the top lifters from many other countries has to do with the way children in these countries are tested and selected for the sports they are most predisposed for. This plus more thorough medical attention for the top athletes from these countries.
Here at Coffee’s Gym, we’ve gotten used to medical personnel showing up at the gym totally unannounced to get urine samples from some of our top ranked lifters over the years. U.S. Olympic lifting is one of the most thoroughly tested sports in the world.
U.S. lifters lift very well considering they are all pretty much drug free. Today, top U.S. lifters lift about the same weights U.S. lifters were able to lift before testing became so efficient.
Last year was one of the rare years when the Senior World Weightlifting Championships was held in the USA. I attended for the whole 10 days it took to run it off down in Houston, Texas. Each day I would spend several hours watching the athletes in the training hall go through their pre-competition routines. I never did see Louie Simmons there. Even an expert like him may have picked up some tips watching these top men and women in the world train.
In particular, he may have wanted to observe the way these world class weightlifters perform their squats: torsos totally erect and perpendicular, chest and head held high, all the way top to bottom, hips on heels. No doubt very different than the way squats are performed at Westside. Almost a totally different exercise. Of course I’ve seen these world class men and women weightlifters train many times before. They all possess very prominent quadriceps development. This is the kind of leg development Olympic weightlifters get doing their squats so upright and deep. When the bar is held low at mid delt, the feet placed very wide apart, trunk inclined forward as powerlifters do, then you get development in the hamstrings and hips, in contrast to the quad and glute development Olympic lifters get squatting the way they do. Olympic lifters get their hamstrings doing various snatches and cleans, pulls, and bend overs with the legs held straight. The quadriceps and the hamstrings are both worked very effectively during the course of an Olympic lifting workout.
Many ex-Powerlifters who become ‘experts’ at various CrossFits and gyms teach this low bar form of squatting under the mistaken impression that this is the way weightlifters should squat. This is incorrect.
Louie brags about how many 1000+ lb squatters he has in his gym and I assume all these men are wearing multi-ply suits, holding the bar at mid delt with feet set so wide that they can only barely break parallel, and it goes without saying that these gentleman are all well-steroided.
In the May June 2015 issue of Power Magazine, Stan Efferding is interviewed by Mark Bell. Mr. Efferding states that squatting with vertical shins would not transfer very well to sprints, “for that you want to be doing things like a front squat or a high bar squat”.
Perhaps Louie having conquered the powerlifting training world now wants to become the strength guru to Olympic lifting. Sorry Louie, this arena is already taken care of.
I did go to the trouble and expense of buying Louie’s book. There is absolutely no useful information in the whole book. Only complaints about how Olympic lifters don’t do strength work in this country.
Doing a classic powerlifting type workout does develop some general strength, but this type of training would have very little usefulness for any athlete including Olympic lifters.
I assume that Louie is angling to become some kind of strength training guru for Olympic lifting. Unfortunately, he will probably succeed in getting some people to take him seriously. Based on what I’ve seen that Louie has posted in the internet, Louie Simmons has absolutely nothing worthwhile to offer to Olympic lifting. Please don’t pay $500 for a weekend Louie Simmons Olympic lifting seminar.
– John B. Coffee
Commentary on Louie Simmons Debacle
By John Coffee and Edward Baker
A few weeks ago, powerlifter Louie Simmons released a book providing his interpretation of strength training for weightlifters. This literature is falsely written under the premise that a bunch of random exercises are going to be the answer to make American weightlifting great again. Louie confuses the trend of a routine consisting mostly of the lifts, squats, and pulls to a lack of knowledge, when there is a general consensus that the movements that most similarly mimic the snatch and clean & jerk correlate to improvement of the respective lifts. John Coffee and I felt the need to put out this article to make sure that nobody actually takes this book seriously.
In his book, Louie Simmons writes about how American lifters spend most of their training time on technique and fail to train for strength. Of course this is not true. American lifters spend hours each week doing pulls and squats, also hyper extensions, presses, glute ham raises, ab work etc. Louie fails to realize also that when a lifter does heavy doubles and triples and singles in the Snatch and Clean & jerk, they’re also working strength and power as well as technique. He also seems to fail to realize that when pulls and front squats with the same technique as the classics lifts are done, he or she also is working technique. I’m not sure Louie quite realizes exactly how Olympic lift training is done.
The latest training method seems to include working almost exclusively with low reps in the classic lifts, plus front and back squats. Many of the world’s top lifters seem to be training this way. Although I personally don’t wish to train my lifters this way, it is worth noting that some of the best lifters in the world do. The trend seems to do less variety of exercises rather than more.
“So how do you raise the Olympic style squatting? Simple: by not doing them. Yes, that means following the Conjugate Method” – Louie Simmons
Louie advises people having trouble with squats to not do squats, and to do box squats instead. How about reducing your squat weights so that you do your squats correctly and strengthen the legs this way? Many individuals have weak quads, this can be corrected by doing both front and back squats as upright as possible.
As John stated, when an individual is performing the full lifts, they’re working technique while also getting stronger, and when performing squats and pulls, they’re getting stronger while also working technique; you want to do all of the assistance movements as close to the exact of motion as you can possibly get.
“If you pull your knees inward while recovering from a heavy squat, why do you think more squats will fix the problem? It won’t, of course. If you can’t hold the lockout in your jerk or snatch do you really think it will correct itself? No, you must at the very least do elbow extensions.” – Louie Simmons
If a lifter is performing squats incorrectly as Louie describes, then they would simply focus on squatting without the knees caving in; getting strong in the right movement pattern is the premise of Weightlifting.
Take this comparison for example: Bob Peoples clean & jerked 308 lb and deadlifted 725 lb weighing 181 lb, whereas Isaac Berger clean & jerked 336 lb and never could deadlift 500 lb, weighing 132 lb. Though Peoples deadlifted well over 200 lb more than Berger, he still clean & jerked less than him. Berger was stronger in the right movement pattern. There’s being strong, then there’s being strong in the right movement.
Louie also writes of accommodation:
“When I watch Olympic lifting in its current state, I can only think of one thing: Accommodation. When doing the same training—using the same exercises over and over with the same volume or intensity—a lifter’s performance will slow or even go backwards.”
“In the US, the expectation is that the result of exercise is always an increase in performance, but if nothing in the program is changed, the athlete experiences the principle of diminishing returns. This is a general law of biology and simply means if one does a constant stimulus, that stimulus will decrease over time.”
The principle of accommodation that Louie writes of is absolutely correct; if you do the exact same routine each week with no progression of volume and intensity then your progress will slow and eventually stall. However I know of no coach that has done this. In Vladimir Zatsiorsky’s Science and Practice of Strength Training he writes of accommodation, presumably where Louie got his similar explanation from:
However Zatsiorsky follows up in the next paragraph with (and Simmons makes no mention of):
Everyone’s progress begins to slow as they go further into their Weightlifting career; In the first couple of months of training a Weightlifter can improve their snatch and clean & jerk weekly, sometimes daily, but as they get further and further into their career, personal records become less plentiful. That’s just the way it is. The stronger you get, the harder it is to get strong. Success in a weightlifter’s training isn’t determined by the number of PRs made in a bunch of random exercises, but by what a weightlifter can Snatch and Clean & jerk on the platform. Ultimately, you have X amount of time and want to do the exercises that are the most productive and that most resemble the Olympic lifts.
There is constant mention in his book of American weightlifters being unsuccessful because they’re not doing the exercises he describes in his book; well what about steroids and the talent pool? In other countries, the most genetically predisposed people are picked for weightlifting, in this country, not more than a few percent of people hear about weightlifting much less practice it. It is certainly becoming better known, and hopefully will continue to. However until the United States develops a beat the drug test or WADA manages to successfully eliminate drugs from this sport, then we will continue to be on the outside looking in. (I certainly would prefer the latter method) The writings of Tommy Kono, Bob Takano, Carl Miller, Artie Drechsler, Harvey Newton, and Jim Schmitz, to name a few, have gifted American weightlifting with the knowledge we need to become a dominant Weightlifting power, we just need to keep finding the talent and get drugs out of the sport to do it.
How Great Coaches Differ From Others
By: Edward Baker
Right when I met John Coffee, I sensed that he was different from other coaches that I encountered. There was no self promotion, no speaking in condescension or complete certainty to me, and of course I never once felt like he wanted to keep me around because he wanted my money. However the trait that stood out to me the most is how he genuinely loved the sport. I’ve been fortunate enough to be around some of John’s weightlifting friends that have also been around the sport for decades, and they seem to share the same traits. They all love weightlifting. This love is what made them all great coaches.
Rather than make a writeup on how I think coaches that came from John’s time differed from coaches today, I asked the lifters of Artie Drechsler, Bob Takano, and Gayle Hatch the question: “What makes your coach different from a typical coach people might encounter right now?” Here are their responses.
Athlete: Rhiannon Reynolds
Coached By: Artie Drechsler (Author of the Weightlifting Encyclopedia, international level athlete, coach, and official in the sport of weightlifting. Last male from the USA to set a world record in weightlifting recognized by the International Weightlifting Federation.)
On December 12th, 2015, exactly a week after the American Open,coach and I met after training at the Burger King across the street from the legendary Lost Battalion Hall. He had a pen and a notebook; he bought me a coffee and himself an unsweetened iced tea, and we sat at the back table tucked away from the rest of the crowd.
I, too, had a notebook and a pen. Inside my notebook I had my goals written for the remainder of December and for the quickly approaching new year. You see, this is our ritual: before and after every meet, and the conclusion of every training cycle, he and I meet after Saturday practice and discuss what we are going to do next. I always sit in quiet anticipation as he reads my list of goals, hoping they align with his because I have the utmost respect for him and his opinion. We are always on the same page; we make a pretty good team. We call it the “mastermind alliance” – if you don’t know what that is, I encourage you to look it up. We evaluate my progress and change anything if necessary. I trust him with everything; I think of him as a father. He always approaches each obstacle as it arises with a rational mind. He does everything in his power to see me succeed; not only in weightlifting, but in every aspect of my life. He thinks of all things as an opportunity to get better; there is always something that can be learned no matter what.
Sometimes he brings books, newspaper articles, and photographs to training for me. These are always a treat; not only do these gifts mean a lot to me, but they’re always something that I can benefit from greatly. Technique on world record lifts, how to develop the mindset of a champion, you name it – all things you can carefully dissect and apply. He is always innovating ways to make me better; ways to help me achieve my goals in a realistic way. He shares wise advice based on years of experience from his own weightlifting career. He has never once been disappointed in my performance – he’s been my shoulder to cry on for tears of joy and sadness.
Arthur Drechsler is not only my coach, he is my role model and inspiration. I see and hear the passion in his voice whenever he talks about weightlifting: the places he had been, the people he had met, and the things he had learned. I am truly blessed to know and have the opportunity to learn from him. I would gladly pay any price to have his mentorship, yet he has never asked me for a single dime. Artie helps me because he wants to. There’s nothing in it for him. In his eyes, it is most rewarding to have the ability to share his knowledge and love for the sport. He values those with a good work ethic and character, and doesn’t pursue anyone. Most of all, seeing how much he believes in me has shown me how to believe in myself. Artie is my family, and I look forward to the all the coming years we will spend together in the iron game.
Athlete: Christine Na
Coached By: Bob Takano (USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame, Coach of an Olympian, four national champions, two national record holders, and 27 top ten nationally ranked lifters. Bob has been on the coaching staffs of 17 U.S. National teams to international competitions, five of those being World Championships.)
You can tell he truly loves the sport and ALL of his athletes, from novice lifters to olympians. I used to have a coach who would rely too much on my success, like he was using my handwork and dedication to make himself become an established coach…I finally figured out his coaching was not genuine and had to move on. Then I found Takano!
Athlete: Matt Bruce
Coached By: Gayle Hatch (USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame, 49 USA Weightlifting National Championships. Athletes have competed in 1984, 1988 and 1992 US Olympic Weightlifting Teams and twelve USA World Teams.)
Most gyms I walk in, your see a common theme when an athlete is going for an all time record. You hear load music and screaming at the person to motivate them. To me, my training was quite the opposite. My coach trainined his athletes in an “ole school” manner. Though the training psychology of my coach may be a dying breed, the point must be noted his great accomplishments. While most coaches in USAW would love to see 1 National Championship Banner hanging from their wall, my coach had over 50. That’s right, 50 National Championships as a team on the Junior, Senior and Master level. He produced many Olympians and World Team members under this training psychology, all which were born and raised in Baton Rouge and Coach Hatch never once recruited an athlete to his gym from another club.
This training psychology was what most consider a military approach to coaching. Music was never allowed in the gym and if more than 2 people were talking in a group, you would be reprimanded. Everything was “Yes sir”, “No Sir”, and “What’s next”. He wore the same outfit everyday of his coaching career and considered it his “uniform”. To this day no athlete has been allowed to his house nor seen him away from gym hours or competition. He is known in weightlifting as a “Phantom Coach” and allows his athletes to do the talking for him. This style of coaching taught me discipline and I responded to this style very well. While seems to be a dying philosophy, the results speak for themselves. I myself have taken a little of this style, but have incorporated my own style. In the end, use what works best for you, but always remember where you came from.
Current Strength Industry Dichotomy
With today’s news headline featuring a strength coach, we have an interesting dichotomy – strength coaches are now paid more and are more highly visible (and possibly more appreciated) than in previous years. Which definitively points to industry progress. To a degree, yes.
But with every window we have into those who are responsible for this progress, what do we hear? We hear talk of motivating and energy, of cheering and mentoring. Do any of those things have to do with strength coaching? Sure, any coach needs to have these interpersonal skills but do we primarily evaluate football coaches on their ability to motivate and cheer? Nope.
How well does the coach implement his system, how well does he tailor the system to his personnel, how well does the coach gameplan for opponents. How well does he alter the gameplan when faced with adverse results. We laud coaches who can, via schematic alterations, make the second half look like a completely different game than the first half.
All the Xs and Os details have become such a visible part of the game of football recently. It is well documented, QBs like TB12 and Peyton who spend hours analyzing opponents film – again, the Xs and Os. Even novice fans know the importance of the gameplan. For those who are/have been involved in football, they truly understand the depth of detail involved in defensive coverages, in blocking schemes, the precision of route patterns and how pressure presents. Football coaches have pages upon pages of detailed planning for a single game.
Now what about the specifics of a strength coach’s job? Almost always, the answer sounds nearly identical to this – “Absolutely, our guy does a fantastic job motivating and pushing the players inside and outside the weight room”.
On several occasions I have witnessed individuals correcting those who use the term ‘squat snatch’, as if it is a term that originated in the CrossFit community. This tells me right away that the individual most likely has not familiarized themselves with Weightlifting literature that uses the term, or even worse that they haven’t been around authorities that lived during the time when the term ‘squat snatch’ was common in Weightlifting.
There was once a time in Weightlifting history when a majority of the world records were set using the split style rather than the squat style that predominates today. Larry Barnholth, the ‘Father of the Squat Snatch’, coached brothers Pete and Jim George. The George brothers successfully used the squat style, and can be considered as the prototype squat snatchers; Pete went on to become Olympic champion in 1952, with his brother Jim earning a silver in the 1960 Olympic Games and a Bronze in 1956. The following link is an article written by Barnholth titled ‘Secrets of the Squat Snatch’:
Note that this article, taken from a Strength & Health magazine published in 1950, uses the term ‘squat snatch’ many times; this dispels the myth that CrossFit invented this term. We should pay homage to the Founding Fathers of this Iron Game and familiarize ourselves with these individuals and their contributions that paved the way to the sport of Weightlifting as it stands today.
The past few years have been excellent for the exposure of Weightlifting. Membership in USAW has almost doubled in the past year and with that almost double the number of USAW certified coaches. Thanks to CrossFit and social media the popularity of this sport is growing and more gyms are becoming interested in learning more about Weightlifting With the booming interest, more people with certifications and degrees are coming out of the woodwork proclaiming to be coaches. And unfortunately, there is a tendency for consumers to assume that those who possess letters after their name are automatically good coaches. Credentials don’t make coaches.
That last statement isn’t to say that there is no validity in possessing credentials. Quite the contrary, obtaining a formal education in the basics of exercise physiology and biomechanics can give an individual foundational knowledge to build upon, and attending different certification courses or seminars can provide new information, or remind and reinforce what an individual has already learned. One criticism of using a formal education to coach, is that much of the literature used is derived from a Physical Therapy setting, but what is applicable to a PT patient does not necessarily apply to a lifter. For example, Karl Klein’s ‘The Knee is Not for Bending’ article featured in Sports Illustrated back in 1962 misled many to believe that full squats caused laxity of ligaments in the knee. While this has been refuted, many exercise science programs still teach this as dogma (including the University of Georgia). Sure, a full squat wouldn’t be advisable for a soccer player who’s doing physical therapy after an ACL surgery, but a hammer thrower would be missing out on the benefits of the development of the glutes (important and powerful hip extensors) that would only help them in their athletic endeavors.
Lacking a formal education in exercise science means it is up to the individual to properly educate themselves on training methodologies, and there are plenty of Weightlifting coaches in this country that have done so. My coach and mentor, John Coffee, is a prime example. While he doesn’t have an Exercise Science degree, he has definitely read his fair share of literature so that it doesn’t hold him back. At 68 years old, he’s still making strides to educate himself on how to be a better coach.
Notice that I stated ‘foundational knowledge’ earlier in the last paragraph; While credentials can provide an excellent basis, a prospective coach must not stop striving to educate themselves. I feel that too often there is a tendency for people to either go into certifications or seminars just to obtain a credential, rather than aiming to further expand their knowledge on training methodologies.
Just as bad of a sin is that one stops trying to learn after completing the certification/seminar, with the mentality that most of what a coach needed to know was within the course material. And there are those individuals who completely scoff at certifications, seminars, or formal education altogether who, ironically, are the ones that would most greatly benefit from each.
Foundational knowledge serves as a great starting point on how to go about training an athlete, but truly learning to be a coach requires actively learning with each athlete you’re entrusted with. Everyone is different and everyone will need to be trained differently. At the end of the day, a large part of coaching is making lots and lots of educated guesses based on education and experience. When you provide a technical cue for an athlete, experience will say that it will correct a problem, but there’s no surefire way of knowing what we say will 100% work. This goes for programming as well. When I started training at Coffee’s, I hung around the gym everyday and got to see John work with people on a daily basis. This has tremendously helped me in my own coaching endeavors. The mark of a good coach is how well they convey the knowledge they possess to their athletes. Anyone can memorize a biomechanical analysis of the execution of a snatch, but that is only half the equation. If a coach can’t give the information to the athlete in a way that they can understand and execute the proper movement pattern, then it’s useless information.
In conclusion, coaches are made by education and experience. From my own personal experience, if you are aspiring to be a coach, find a well‐established, knowledgeable coach and ask if you can shadow them to see how they work with their athletes. “One can never know it all, and one should never stop striving to learn more.”