Weightlifting 101 Q&A
I regularly receive questions from coaches and athletes on a wide variety of topics and thought it would be useful for me to directly reach out to the community, giving them the possibility to ask whatever questions on their mind and proceed to answer the best ones. I did that in my closed Facebook group Weightlifting 101 and was overwhelmed by the positive response. People that know me well can testify to the fact that I tend to think, act and coach in a somewhat unconventional way and the answers to some of the questions might not be what the person asking the question was hoping for or expecting but, nonetheless, it is my perspective and what guides me in my work and is responsible for any success I might have. In popular language: I often think outside the box and some of the answers are going to reflect that.
Before kicking off with the first question, I need to make one thing absolutely clear. My main interest is to develop “barbell athletes” for crossfit, which encompasses much more than the demands in the sport of Olympic weightlifting.
1. What would you consider a good ratio between squat and deadlift strength compared to the snatch and clean & jerk?
I never think in those terms. I call it “weightlifting math” and don’t consider it very useful. My sole interest is what people can lift, what they are doing right and wrong technically, how to improve what’s wrong in the fastest and most lasting way and what numbers they need to hit in order to be competitive at the level they aspire to. My approach is to first re-build the technique from scratch with the goal of making it perfect. Secondly, to put the athlete on track to develop the necessary flexibility needed for a great, technical barbell game. Third, when the athlete has great all round technique and flexibility we get serious about getting stronger in the exercises where increased strength will carry over to the rest of the barbell game.
The main reasons I don’t spend much time pondering about ratios is because it’s just statistical averages and across the barbell game there are so many exceptions. The degree to which you will be able to utilize your physical strength is also strongly dependent on your psychology which is impossible to measure and quantify.
Relative ratios are not useful to me because there are too many factors determining them. The goal should be technical mastery and high strength numbers.
2. How is the back squat beneficial in weightlifting?
The back squat is beneficial because it’s a full body movement that builds strength in the legs and back. If you squat very upright like the Chinese you will emphasize the quads more, if you do it low bar or just with more of an upper body tilt it will target the posterior chain more, but regardless it is an excellent way of getting stronger in your legs and back which is the bread and butter of weightlifting.
3. What should I do in the deload week of the squat cycles?
You can do two easy sessions in your deload week: one back- and one front squat session. Make sure that you really warm up your bottom position and work on any flexibility restrictions you might have and keep the squatting light and explosive.
4. How do you periodize training? Do you use any load parameter as a guideline? Do you train males and females differently?
I don’t periodize training in the traditional way. My approach is to take a small step forward every day all year round but to never train so hard that a longer break becomes necessary. Some people will claim that this is impossible but I have seen it done countless times. Whether or not it’s the best approach is up for discussion. I don’t program differently for males or females but due to the general differences in psychology between the genders, I often coach them differently. Of course, I always try to tailor my coaching to the needs of the specific athlete in question in order to get the best possible results.
5. How would you periodize your training throughout the year in crossfit if you are going to compete – let’s say – every two to three months? Would you even periodize it or try to focus on everything the whole time? (Strength, WL, Conditioning, Gymnastics etc.).
My answer here is an elaboration of the previous question. I believe that you should try to train in such a way that you do everything on a weekly basis and go to bed better at crossfit than when you woke up. If you have a competition coming up you deload leading up to it by reducing volume and intensity gradually and take out exercises that are very taxing for your central nervous system. The kind of competition you wish to participate in can of course play a role as to what your training looks like in the period leading up to it. The programming at the Regionals is very different from that of the Games and that is of course an important consideration.
6. How much can someone improve his/hers back squat in a year? Let’s say the person has 2-3 years of CF training under his/her belt and it seems like he/she needs to improve squat strength. The person is a regular CF athlete who has work, kids and can train 5 times a week.
Everyone has an upper limit for how strong they can become in the squat and short of using drugs you are not going to change your genetic potential. The only thing you can do is to maximise your potential through smart and hard work. Forget about making predictions and focus on the process. Have you as a coach put your athlete on track to fulfill his or her physical/genetic potential? That is the real question. Most likely the answer is no.
7. Why are some people better at lifting from the hang position than from the floor and what can be done about it?
There can be many reasons influencing those discrepancies but here are some of the important ones.
– Some people are technically really good from the hang and not so good from the floor or vice versa.
– Some people have a weak lower back but are able to stay more upright from the hang, utilize their legs and upper body and thereby not being as limited by the lower back weakness as they would from the floor.
– Some people are better from the floor because they feel that the longer pull phase allows them to generate more momentum or height on the bar.
The solution will sound stupidly obvious. Identify why you are weak at any given lift, comparatively speaking, and take steps to correct it.
8. In your opinion which top crossfitter is the best weightlifter in terms of technical proficiency? And how far is their abilities compared to the best weightlifters in the world?
I think Mat Fraser has the best technical weightlifting at the Games but I haven’t scrutinized every single athlete there. However, at the highest level of weightlifting he wouldn’t even be able to clean & jerk what his competitors can snatch but part of that is probably due to the severe drug use at the highest level of weightlifting.
9. Do you have any tips for mobility for weightlifting? I still struggle with a good overhead position in overhead squat and this limits my snatch.
I have a million tips and exercises to improve flexibility for weightlifting but it always depends on the specific exercise or position. Integrating overhead squats with an empty bar in your warm-up for, say, five sets of five reps every other minute, and progressively working on narrowing the grip is my favorite way of improving overhead flexibility but like everything else it’s only useful if performed in a certain (read: correct) way.
It’s your responsibility to find the right way, either through trial and error or a good coach.
10. I have been wondering for a while if you intended on running workshops/camps for coaches. I’d love to get more of an insight into the principles by which you coach and programme your athletes.
This is something that I have been considering for some time and I will probably do the first Coaches Camp this year but I will be very selective with whom I allow to attend. I don’t think you will ever become a great coach unless you transform yourself from what you started out with to what you want your athletes to be. Because of that the camp will be a mix of hard training (being in the shoes of an athlete), an introduction to epistemology (the ability to think clearly), explanations of principles of technique, programming, etc. If this is something that you would like to do, please let me know via Facebook or email. It will also be a requirement that you have attended a normal training camp so you know and will be able to deal with the training that is a part of the Coaches Camp.
11. Until what percentage of PR would you do the lifts CF style (a.k.a. feet bolted into the floor)?
Before starting a workout you need to make a qualified guess as to which strategy that will yield you the best result. You can have the same barbell movement at the same weight with the same rep-scheme in two different workouts and the best strategy for approaching the barbell could easily be entirely different. Laying out rules dictating exactly what to do without knowing the workout doesn’t give you the flexibility of strategizing which is crucial for optimal performance. Because of the nature of crossfit, specifically the ever changing combination of exercises and rep-ranges and loading, I don’t think it’s very useful to look for quantitative rules.
12. Should you “bounce out of the bottom” of your lifts, especially the squats and clean, in training or are you just cheating yourself out of strength gains?
In the (squat) clean you should never pause in the bottom position but instead try to stand up immediately because it makes it easier and lifting with the pause can turn into a really bad habit. In back- and front squats I like to mix it up between the conventional and with pauses. When doing paused stuff I like the eccentric part to be very controlled and for the lifter to sit completely still in the bottom for 3-5 seconds before standing up aggressively. In conventional or non-paused squatting, I prefer a middle of the road approach. If you go down super slow it makes it much harder and ruins the whole flow of the lift. On the other hand you don’t want to squat down so fast that you jeopardize knees and hips or lose the posture of the upper body.
13. Should I squat as deep as form allows or stop just below 90 degrees?
The goal should be to squat all the way down with good form. You want the toes and heels to be solidly planted in the ground, for the upper body to be vertical, for the knees to be aligned with the toes and for the lower back to be tight without any butt wink.
14. Which accessory exercises are a “must” for any weightlifter?
That really depends on the person in question and also what we chose to define as accessory. In the sport of weightlifting you only compete in snatch and clean & jerk so you could make the case that everything else, by definition, is accessory. I will answer the question in the context of crossfit weightlifting and with accessory exercises being important non-competition movements. With that perspective in mind my favorite accessory exercises are glute-ham raises, weighted back extensions and Jefferson curls. An individualized “movement program” is crucial for anyone serious about competing in crossfit or weightlifting. You want an expert to analyse any restrictions in range of motion that you have and to then take steps to improve it. Things like tight wrists, poor internal rotation of the hips, stiff toes, tight hamstrings, etc. I have personally seen Björgvin Karl Gudmundsson and Julie Abildgaard make incredible improvements with the help of John Singleton. This is a fascinating area and absolutely crucial for optimal performance.
15. Are there any minimum requirements for snatch and clean & jerk, or how advanced you should be, to be able to attend one of your camps?
There are some important requirements for participation. You need to be injury free and not be a beginner as the camps call for four days of hard work and I need people to be physically ready for that. Snatching 40kg and clean & jerking 55kg is the absolute minimum. However, the most important thing is the level of coach-ability of the participant. Being focused, disciplined, willing to learn and hard-working are the qualities I value the most. People with a good attitude are always welcome; people with a poor attitude, whatever level they are at, are advised to stay away.
16. How much does the mental part contribute to someone’s success in CrossFit or weightlifting?
The mental component is absolutely crucial if you want to achieve great thing in sports – or in life in general. I have been fortunate to know and work with some very good crossfit athletes – Björgvin Karl Gudmundsson, Sara Sigmundsdóttir, Julie Abildgaard, Adrian Mundwiler, Lukas Esslinger, Steven Fawcett and many others – and they are all tremendously hard working and mentally tough. I view the mental mental component as having two distint sides to it. On the one hand you have what is normally referred to as “discipline” or “work ethics”. This means that you are dealing with an athlete who is willing to wake up early in the morning and put in the work. The opposite of laziness. On the other hand you see athletes that despite those obvious qualities are just not tough enough. They are diligent but not tough. In any conditioning based activity you need to be able to handle a great deal of discomfort for a sustained period of time. And in weightlifting you need to execute the lift without hesitation. Some people just don’t have that mental toughness/fortitude or whatever label you wish to use and it can only be improved to a certain point. All the best crossfitters I have met were hardcore to the bone and I think they always had it in them.
17. Where did you learn your style of coaching/knowledge of weightlifting? Do you have formal education in teaching/lifting?
I started weightlifting when I was 15 years old and was immediately hooked. I spent all my teenage years training, watching, reading and thinking about weightlifting. I was completely consumed by it and have been since then with a little break in the middle where I was studying something unrelated to the sport and traveling in Asia. I never attended any formal seminars or education in weightlifting as I considered it a waste of time but took it upon myself to learn everything I could. I am also of the opinion that teaching someone weightlifting is much more of an art than an exact science and that you can only get really good at it if you – besides having the innate talent – spend an enormous amount of time actually coaching people essentially taking them from nothing to technical competency.
18. My question would be about training volume. Is it necessary to train for 3-4 hours a day if I want to be competitive or can an intense 2 hour day suffice?
That totally depends on who you are and what you mean by being competitive. I think it is very difficult for anyone to be competitive in the sport with only a few hours of daily training and as the sport progresses it will only get more difficult. If you want to be a professional crossfit athlete, and you have the necessary talent in the first place, which most people don’t, then I think you need to approach it as a full time job. You need to train hard all day long, sleep 10 hours every night, make sure that your nutrition is on point and systematically remove any and all obstacles and stress-factors from your life that impair your progress.
19. What weightlifting coach, former or present, would you most want to learn under?
Easy. Ivan Aberdjiev.
Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed it and would like to see another round of questions, please let me know in the comments.