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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

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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

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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.)

            One major difference that I learned with newer coaches is that they give TOO many corrections. It almost seems like they always need to say something after every lift, every mistake, and that can be overwhelming to novice lifters and too annoying for experienced lifters. Takano is a man with honesty and says it like it is. No bullshit, not trying to “sell” you. Weightlifting is an AMAZING, ADDICTING sport. if you love it, you will work your ass off and show up to train. Takano lets the beauty of this sport to bring people in, no salesmen here, which is VERY refreshing. He will push you to your potential, but you are the athlete, you’re the one lifting.


          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

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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.

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Current Strength Industry Dichotomy

By: Splitter

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”.

I digress…

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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’:

http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2009/12/ffrom-secrets-of-squat-snatch-larry.html

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.

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By: Edward Baker

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.”

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Photo courtesy of: hookgrip

Smooth Off The Floor
by: Edward Baker

In technical analyses of the Olympic lifts, much attention is appropriated to the latter phases. The incipient phase of the pull is equally, if not more important, and in many cases determines the outcome of a made or missed lift. Echoing the sentiments of John Coffee, “If you can start it right, chances are you’ll end it right.”
The separation of the barbell from the platform must be smooth; not necessarily slow, but in such a way that body positions are not compromised. For example, when an athlete yanks or jolts the barbell off the ground, the back tends to round (it’s also not good practice for the sake of integrity of the shoulders.) Many times the athlete will rush pulling the bar from the floor and commit faults that severely hinder the possibility of successfully completing the lift. These faults include: Not getting the knees back enough, the bar drifting away from the athlete from the ground to the knees, and the bar coming off of the ground too fast.
Not getting the knees back enough will force the athlete to pull around the knees, and this horizontal deviation away from the body will result in more of an abrupt ‘sweep’ as the bar is being pulled from the knees to the hip (a forceful contact of the hips will result in anterior translation of the barbell.) The barbell drifting away from the athlete will result in the same fault.
Many athletes mistakenly assume that if they pull the bar off the ground really fast, then this in turn will mean that their second pull will be faster and that they will be able to get under the bar. The bar needs to be moving with the greatest acceleration as triple extension occurs at the top of the pull. If the bar accelerates off the ground fast, then there is a chance that the bar will actually decelerate as it gets to the hip. (The opposite of what we want.)
Being ‘smooth’ and controlled off the floor will assure that these faults are avoided, John will often iterate “I don’t care if it takes you five seconds to get to the knees,” to stress that hitting the proper positions in the first phase of the lift is more important then trying to come off of the floor fast.

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by Edward Baker

The big meet is over, preparation for the next has begun. You didn’t feel like you made quite the progress you’d have hoped. With an insatiable champion’s mentality, you’ll never be quite satisfied. Back to the drawing board to figure out where you went wrong, where to start off, and where you have to finish.
There will be days when the will to lift comes naturally. From warmup to working sets, all of the lifts you make will feel as though you were born holding a barbell. A good lift will further inspire you, and the extra inspiration will enable you to complete even more good lifts in succession. These days come easy.
There will be days when nothing feels quite right. The first warmup feels heavy, the lifts feel irregular and never quite in the groove; even the knurling of the bar feels foreign as you grasp it. And out of nowhere this trickle of bad days becomes a storm, and in no time you’re dejected before even stepping foot in the gym.
Then you remember that you’re in this for the long haul, and have to keep moving forward. The tempest is stagnant; No matter how discouraging, how unpromising, how rocky the path seems, as long as you keep moving forward you’ll escape the storm. And once again will you and the barbell move in harmony.

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The Power Jerk: Set Yourself Under
By: Edward Baker

The power or push jerk is a less common, yet equally viable way of executing the jerk portion of the clean & jerk. Weightlifting literature may give it a brief mention, but technical issues are not really addressed. This is presumably because for most, the power jerk serves as no more than an assistance exercise. After collaborating with biomechanists and well respected international coaches (including Pyrros Dimas’s coach, Christos Iakovou) I will begin to address the technical faults that are most prominent with power jerkers. The one we will address today is: Not setting one’s self under the bar.
The two biggest disadvantages of the power jerk are that the athlete must drive the barbell higher (in relation to a split jerk) and that there is a reduction in anteroposterior stability. The reduction in anteroposterior stability means either: If the barbell has horizontal deviation when being driven overhead, or if the athlete isn’t optimally set under to receive the barbell, then there is a significantly reduced chance of a successful jerk. The split jerk is much more forgiving if either of the aforementioned faults occur, and there are many instances in which the athlete can dance around the platform and save the lift.

In the following example, the athlete drives the barbell vertically, but jumps back a couple of inches and has to incline forward at the torso to successfully make the lift. Ideally you’d like for the torso to remain fairly vertical.

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Photos thanks to: Hookgrip

Keeping the shoulders and hips in line with the barbell overhead or ‘joint stacking’ is especially important for a power jerker. A vertical torso will also enable the athlete to ride the jerk into a partial squat with maximal poundages (The jerk would be missed out front with an overly inclined torso, just as a squat would.) The feet move out slightly, not back when going from the driving to receiving position of the power jerk. Some higher tiered power jerkers (Dimas, Kakhiasvilis, Bedzhanyan, etc.) jump forward in several instances.

If the barbell is driven in almost a perfectly vertical manner then there may be a need to jump forward a little so that the athlete’s shoulders and hips are in line with the bar (If the bar is starting on the anterior deltoids and being driven overhead in a secure receiving position then this makes sense.) While I certainly wouldn’t advocate consciously displacing the feet forward when receiving a power jerk, let it serve to emphasize the importance of being in an ideal position for receiving the barbell.
I also witness people not making any sort of attempt to go into a receiving position when the bar is driven to arm’s length, they are simply straight up, which means the barbell has to be driven higher, and means that the barbell is much more precarious overhead. Even if the power jerk is being used as an assistance movement, special attention must be given to ensure that the athlete wedges themselves between the barbell and the platform in a nice and secure position.
Just a little sharing of observations I’ve had, I’ll scratch the surface on a couple of other points regarding the power jerk in the future.

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