Common Sense: Approach to CJ Cummings' Training

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.

Squatting Frequency

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.