Weightlifting

The Truth About Experts


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Crossfit in America is one of the most controversial topics in the strength and conditioning world.  I have to admit that five years ago I was one of their biggest critics.  I watched the same videos that everyone else has seen showing terrible technique and shear absurdities.  Over the last five years I have met some of the nicest, hungriest for knowledge, and driven people of my life that are Crossfitters.  Crossfit has opened the eyes of America to sports that I love, Weightlifting and Powerlifting.  They have also opened the doors for people like me to earn a living teaching these folks about the sports that I love, but the problem is that if someone is pronounced an expert in the field, too many of these folks blindly follow these so called “gurus”.  Now I am not saying that they are all bad, but I am saying that Crossfitters or anyone else seeking the advice of strength coaches should check their background and make educated decisions.  The purpose of this article isn’t necessarily to bash a lot of people, but it is meant to open some eyes and shed a little light on truth.

In 2006 I wrote an article for Elite Fitness Systems entitled “Westside Meets Olympic Weightlifting”.  I was fresh out of the powerlifting world, and I wanted to apply what I had learned to weightlifting.  It was one of the most read articles of the year for the EliteFTS Website, but I am here to set the story straight.  The things that I wrote were simply a hypothesis that I had formed after immersing myself in the ways of Westside Barbell.  Louie has been epic in his impact on the sport of Powerlifting, and there is no one on earth that can deny that.  Do I believe that everything he says is fact? Well no, but I still respect him.  He did teach us that through accommodating the resistance of the bar pathway via chains or bands one could learn compensatory acceleration at a faster and more efficient level.  Louie has taught us about the conjugate method which is a fancy way of saying to vary the stimulus to force adaptation of the body.  He also educated the world on the importance of the posterior chain to balance the body’s anterior portion, and that along with his amazing work on General Physical Preparedness arguably makes Louie the most influential Strength Guru of at least my lifetime.

When it comes to Olympic weightlifting, I believe that he should leave the future of the sport to the experts.  I spent a majority of my 20s learning from Olympic weightlifting coaches like Wes Barnett and Dragomir Cioroslan.  I left the sport only to make a return in 2007, and now once again I find myself surrounded by the best in the business like Glenn Pendlay, Jon North, Donnie Shankle, and Don McCauley.   These guys have spent their lives trying to perfect their techniques and programming.  Donnie Shankle has traveled the world in search of knowledge including a several month stay with Bulgarian Coach Ivan Abadjiev arguably the greatest weightlifting coach in the history of the sport.  Actually Jon, Donnie, and Glenn have spent countless hours with this coach learning the truth about the sport of weightlifting.  I have read countless articles written by Glenn, written by Coach Abadjiev, and now I am working on some Chinese articles that are awesome.  The Chinese are the new kids on the block, so I am trying to figure out their methods, but there is one point to all of this.  Powerlifting is very different from weightlifting.

Professional powerlifting in America isn’t drug tested.  Powerlifting is sanctioned into hundreds of federations, so who knows who really the champion is.  Powerlifting uses equipment that aids in the performance of the lift like squat suits, knee wraps, and bench shirts.  The biggest difference is that Olympic weightlifting is much more dependent on neuromuscular coordination than Powerlifting.  What I mean is that the Snatch and Clean & Jerk are complex lifts, and they demand practice.  Powerlifting movements are simple movements, and therefore they don’t demand the amount of practice required by Olympic weightlifting.  In Powerlifting I was able to squat twice per week and bench twice per week, but in the sport of weightlifting the snatch and clean and jerk must be practiced like the foul shots in basketball.  The only way to get better at foul shots is shooting foul shots.  Louie once made the comment that weightlifters use six basic movements: Clean & jerk, snatch, squat, front squat, power clean, and power snatch, and he believed that the body would quickly adapt to these six lifts.  He believes that the body would adapt and stop progressing, but Donnie Shankle points out that Louie forgets that weightlifters perform these lifts everyday three days per week at ramping volumes.  Weightlifters train much like lumber jacks drag trees.  Lumber jacks don’t get days off, and they can’t do upper body one day and lower the next.  Lumber jacks get brutally strong because the body adapts to the work load and gets stronger to provide the body the tools to carry out the task at hand.  Weightlifters continue to increase workloads forcing the body to adapt, and when competition time draws near, the lifter will back off and allow for supercompensation.  Supercompensation simply put is the process of forcing the body to get stronger to adapt to increasingly high volumes, then backing down allowing for extra amounts of recovery.  The body is still firing at the rate required of the extra volume, but the athlete has pulled back.  Now the body gets a lot stronger from the extra recovery, and now the lifter is ready for an all-time Personal Record.  The book “Supercompensation” by Dr. Mel Siff is a must for serious athletes and their coaches.  Weightlifters adapt to training stimuli, and then the stimuli are increased, and then meanwhile neuromuscular adaptation is taking place.  What I mean by that is the lifter is perfecting the movement of the snatch and clean & jerk in a way that is most efficient for their body.

Weightlifters in America aren’t winning for four main reasons:  performance enhancing drugs, hand picking their athletes from a young age, we don’t train as a group, and a lot of our great athletes are in sports that pay big money.  I don’t believe that it is the last reason as much as the first three for one main reason: great weightlifters aren’t that tall.  Great weightlifters are short in general, and the professional athletes in America are on average well above six feet tall.  I have met and trained with some of the best weightlifters ever produced in America like Shane Hammons, Wes Barnett, Pete Kelly, Donnie Shankle, Jon North, Travis Cooper, James Tatum, and Tom Gough, and I believe a lot of them could have medaled in the Olympics had they been given performance enhancing drugs.  Louie’s guys are known to have taken different enhancers, so once again we are comparing apples to oranges.  Our weightlifting coaches in America are unbelievable in my opinion.  I could talk to Glenn Pendlay for 20 days straight without getting tired of learning new ideas.  These guys are experts not only in the Olympic lifts, but they are experts in biomechanics, anatomy, nutrition, and even physics.  Our athletes have optimal training facilities and great coaches, so that is definitely not the problem.  Glenn has traveled the world to get all the secrets from the European and Chinese coaches, and he has spent quality time with Ivan Abadjiev the famous Bulgarian Coach and arguably the most winning coach in Olympic Weightlifting history.  The reason I am going into detail about all of this is show that our weightlifters have the optimal training regimen.

One of the biggest problems is that our lifters do not train as a team.  Donnie Shankle shared with me that there are four quadrants to becoming a world champion: Group Atmosphere, attitude, knowing and increasing minimum lifts, and performance enhancing drugs.  Our lifter in America can increase their minimums which means that more important than a lifter max on the snatch and clean & jerk is the minimum that they can make.  What that means is what number can one hit on the snatch and clean & jerk on any given day.  An American lifter can become fearless of weight, and they can attack every lifting session with a purpose therefore developing that attitude of a champion.  The two things that Americans can’t do right now is train as a team and performance enhancing drugs.  There is nothing that we can do about the performance enhancing drugs, and I am glad that we have a clean team.  I am proud of my friends Donnie Shankle and Jon North for representing America like true champions.  However I believe that for American weightlifting to ever push forwards, then there has to be a better situation for them to lift as a team.  Right now there are way too many groups for the optimal training environment to exist.  There should be one training center for the best lifters to battle on a daily basis pushing each other to higher and higher levels.  There should be better facilities, recovery departments, and funding for these athletes to be able to represent the United States or America to the best of their abilities.  Without a doubt Donnie and Jon given the right situation could push USA Weightlifting closer to medaling at the Olympics.

The main reason that I have written this article is to show the strength world that not every expert is applicable to every discipline.  With the onset of Crossfit has come the newest breed of so called “Gurus”, and I want to shed the light on the truth about these individuals.  Louie has been one of the biggest influences on the strength world ever, and I believe that he has advanced the world of strength.  He has personally helped me, but when it comes to weightlifting, he is way off.  Crossfitters and strength lovers alike need to research the people that they are going to listen too.  I recommend asking yourself three questions about the people that you are going to trust with your training protocols: what is their background, what have they personally done, and who have they helped.  Louie for example has a great background in powerlifting.  He has personally kicked butt in the sport.  He has helped hundreds of powerlifters, and he has helped hundreds of athletes in football, fighting, and other sports where strength is important.  What he hasn’t done is train a champion weightlifter, but I believe that some of his ideas of strength could be applicable just not all.  Next month I am going to talk about a guy who is literally stealing money from Crossfitters, and I am not sure that he is qualified to work with anyone.  I am darn sure that he hasn’t done anything himself to warrant teaching anyone.  The biggest problem that I have with next month’s main man is that his technique in the squat and deadlift isn’t only horrible for getting strong, but it is also dangerous.

If you have any questions about this article or anything else, email me at [email protected] or check out my website at www.MashElitePerformance.com.

Travis Mash has been strength training for over 21 years and has been working with athletes on their strength, speed, and athletic performance for over 15 years. Travis has worked with athletes and non-athletes of all levels from NFL and Olympic hopefuls, to 7-year-olds just starting out, to a 70-year-old senior seeking increased mobility. Travis is a published author for several strength and conditioning journals and continues to work with several colleges such as University of North Carolina, Wake Forest University, Appalachian State University, and Wofford University. Travis is a current world champion in powerlifting and has held the all-time pound-for-pound world record. He was also an Olympic hopeful in weightlifting and was recruited for the U.S. men’s bobsled team. Having been a world champion, Travis is able to share his champion mentality with his athletes and non-athletes alike.
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