Monthly Archives: September 2012

Want to pull like Ilya Ilin?

The need to slow down while you are learning has lead to some confusion. And it is exasperated by the instructions given to achieve a proper “rhythm” in the lift. For a good lifter, good rhythm is fast, faster, fastest. Fast to the knees, even faster up the thigh, then fastest during the second pull and the pull under. Your aim should be to have the bar and your body start the lift fast, and just get faster as the lift proceeds.

But that’s not how it goes with a beginner. If a beginner pulls too fast off the floor, they will miss their positions. Or, they will hit the right position at the knee, but have to slow down while pulling the bar up the thigh in order to “find” the correct position at the hip. Neither is helpful to developing good technique.

So, I tell those just learning the lifts to pull slowly off the floor, speed it up gradually as the bar comes up the thigh, then explode and catch when they feel the bar hit the right place on the hip (or upper thigh on the clean).

Concentrate on the correct positions first. Even if you have to go slow, even if you literally have to pause the bar at the knee and at the hip to make sure it is right. Then the correct rhythm, taking out the pauses and speeding up as the lift goes along, even if the actual speed has to start very slowly to maintain position. Add speed gradually, but not so fast that position or rhythm are compromised. But that doesn’t mean pulling slowly is right for a lifter past the learning stage. Ilya Ilin pulls fast right from the floor, and so should you. Just maybe not today.

As I look through some of my old blogs, this one is particularly timeless.

Glenn Pendlay

For many lifters, sticking with the program is a difficult task. Beginners seem to have a particular problem with this, and it’s understandable. Everything is changing fairly fast. One day snatches feel natural; the next the bar goes everywhere except where it’s supposed to go. On Monday you might stand up with your clean easily on every rep. On Wednesday you might be catching a bit forward and struggle to stand up, or even fail to stand up with weights that were easy two days ago. Of course the temptation is to want to work extra hard on the snatch after a sub-par day of snatching, do extra front squatting after you have a day or two when the cleans are hard to stand up with, or to change your training plan or even your whole philosophy after a bad week or two.

But giving in to temptation is almost…

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A short blog from almost a year ago. Everybody loves Babe Ruth, don’t they?

Glenn Pendlay

One of the best baseball players ever was Babe Ruth. I would not guess I am gonna get a lot of argument there. He hit a lot of home runs. He also struck out a lot. Christmas morning did not happen every time he toed the plate. Yet, he kept swinging. And from the little I know about the Babe, he didn’t let strikeouts hurt his confidence at all. He kept swinging.

In my 40+ years on planet earth, I have observed a few things and maybe even learned a thing or two. Or maybe not, but I am going with the idea that I have. Everyone fails. Everyone. I have failed so many times that listing them all here would be pointless. If I thought about all the times, I would no doubt just consider myself a failure and quit. My one redeeming quality is that I have kept…

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Third Excerpt: Why you might need to slow down, and do it right.

I assume that most people reading this know how to type properly. But ignore that for a moment, and imagine that you are just now being presented with a QWERTY keyboard for the first time in your life and I asked you to type a simple sentence. How would you do it? I bet you would use the hunt and peck method.

And if someone, some great teacher of typing, had 60 minutes to teach you to put your fingers on the middle line, index fingers on the letters F and J, and type properly? Well, my bet is that you would still be able to type a given sentence faster and more error free just hunting and pecking.

But if there was a world championship of typing (is there such a thing?) I am sure no one would be hunting and pecking. The upper limit of human genetic potential to type fast is simply higher when using all your fingers properly than when using only 2 of them. So if you want to be the best typist in the world, or even just the bet typist you can be, put your fingers on the keys properly, look away from the keyboard, and start to practice. Sure you will be slower than normal at first, and make more mistakes, but at some point you will be typing faster than any hunter and pecker ever could.

In the same way you must use your body properly while cleaning or snatching a bar or your ultimate potential will be lower than it could have been, and there will be a period while learning to move properly that you will actually be able to lift less using “good” technique than if you used “bad” technique. Most people can move an empty bar slowly through the correct positions from the shins to the hips within a very short time of being taught what the positions are, and properly extend and catch the bar soon after. But, as you speed the movement up and add weight, all beginners will reach a point where they miss the proper positions and their form deteriorates away from the form that will yield the highest ultimate potential for the weight they can lift.

But just where this deterioration happens can’t be accurately predicted for a beginning lifter. Person to person, and day to day for the same person, it varies. Given a particular day and a particular lifter, this deterioration might happen at 30kg or 100kg, at 50% of maximum, or 80%. Yet, at some point, sooner for some and later for others, your best lifts will be achieved with a movement pattern basically the same as the movement pattern that will ultimately let you lift the highest potential weights. When you deviate from this movement pattern, you will miss, when you maintain it, you will make lifts.

But if you’re not there yet, stop adding weight and moving faster when you miss your positions, don’t wait till you are missing lifts. Slow down, and practice doing it correctly even if you could do more by moving incorrectly. Yeah, it can be frustrating to do that, but millions of people have done it when they learned to type. Frustration or not, you can certainly do it when learning to lift.

Second Excerpt: We all train the same.

One of the things that intimidated the hell out of me back in the early 90’s was the huge amount of training systems available, and trying to choose between them. Bulgarian. Russian. Go to maximum every day if you want to progress. Going to max too often stunts progress. Pulls are key. Pulls are useless. The Hatch system. The Calpian system. The Greek system.

How do you choose? I mean even the most productive coaches argue endlessly about what is right and what is wrong, how in the world is a beginner to know?

I heard something from a Bulgarian lifter a few years back that really made me stop and think about this. He said “Why is everyone in the US always arguing about what training system is best? We all do the same system. We snatch, we clean and jerk, and we squat. The rest is just useless details.”

The more I thought about this the more it made sense, and it even made me smile a little bit. I mean, if you think about all the things people do in the weight room, we weightlifters do all train pretty similarly, don’t we?

If you put 3 weightlifters training their snatch in a group of 100 “regular guys” in a gym, will it be hard to spot the weightlifters? Will it matter if one of them is doing snatch pulls, or one is power snatching? Will it matter if one is going to maximum then dropping down to do some lighter doubles, and the other is working with percentages, starting with a series of doubles at 80 and 85 percent, then ending with singles at 90, 92.5, and 95 percent?

No, of course it won’t matter at all. One would instantly know who the weightlifters are. What they are doing is alike enough (and different enough from what all the “regular guys” are doing) to immediately know they are all doing the same sport, something different than the others.

Makes me think about how similar this situation is to playing the piano. Now, I don’t know anything about learning to play the piano. I have no musical instruction or talent whatsoever. But I know that the most important fact about learning to play the piano is that you will have to sit down at the piano and make an attempt to hit the right keys at the right time with the right fingers. Strumming a guitar won’t do it, running or lifting weights or perfecting your jump shot won’t do it, only sitting in front of that piano will do it. Sure there are good piano instructors and bad piano instructors, and I would imagine that there are a whole bunch of different methods and drills and theories about how to best learn to play. But isn’t the particular method or drill pretty irrelevant compared to the fact that you are sitting in front of a piano and hitting keys as opposed to outside working on your jump shot?

When you realize that the most important thing about the training of a weightlifter is that we train the snatch, the clean and jerk, and squat, and that the rest is just details (and it might not even matter how the details get filled in), the whole process gets a lot less intimidating.


About 7 or 8 years ago I thought seriously about writing a book about weightlifting. There were of course many good (and a few great) books on the sport available, but I didn’t think the one that would have helped ME the most when I first started had been written yet. And that is the book I wanted to write.

As I am all too prone to do, I put some work into it and then didn’t finish. Raising kids, building a business, coaching, moving, etc, all took away from that couple of hours a day that you have to sit down and write every day if you ever want to finish a book. Over the past few years I have tried to start again here and there. I have produced some pages of manuscript, but always stopped for one reason or another.

But, I think the time is right go ahead and finish. So I have decided to publish some excerpts from what is finished so far for motivation, and maybe some feedback. This is the first of several excerpts that I plan to put on this blog. Hope you like where I decided to go with the book.

Excerpt 1

I can remember reading some of the material written on weightlifting way back when I first got interested in the sport. Stuff like Bud Charniga’s translated Russian texts, or Verkoshansky’s book “Supertraining”. Excellent books, and they were as interesting as they could be. But I was often left with the feeling of “ok, that was all really cool, but when I go to the gym tomorrow, how do I apply that information”. How do I use what I just read to pick exercises, weights, sets, and reps to do?

Not because stuff like that isn’t great stuff (it is) but with much of the better material written on weightlifting, there has been a definite assumption by the author that the reader knows or understands certain things about the sport before picking up the book. Since I didn’t have this assumed basic knowledge at the time it was fairly frustrating to read them. I knew there was some really great information, but was not quite be able to understand it well enough to apply it.

Then you have a book like Arthur Dreschler’s “Encyclopedia of Weightlifting”. One of my favorite books and one I think that every weightlifter, and everyone who uses the any variation of the competitive lifts in training in any capacity for that matter, should own. There is probably not one single fact that a beginner needs to know that is not in that book. But I have heard from many a beginner that the book is simply overwhelming in the detail it covers, and that because it is a mostly descriptive book, describing many different approaches to training instead of advocating one system, that again, it can be read by a rank beginner and still leave one with the feeling of “that was great, but I’m still not sure what I need to do when I go to the gym tomorrow.

And that is why 7 or 8 years ago when I first considered the possibility of writing a book about weightlifting, I decided I definitely wanted it to be something that a total beginner could read and feel comfortable with. Feel like he or she could apply the information directly to planning the next workout, or week of workouts, and actually have an understanding of the process of developing a training process, and training. Demystify the process, so to speak.

Squats and stuff.

Based on some of the forum posts that I see, and questions I have been asked, it seems that there are a ton of people who want advice on how to balance training for weightlifting or training specific to some other strength related sport, and getting their squat up.

In strength sports other than powerlifting, the squat is not a competitive event. But even in the role of an assistance exercise squats are so effective at building strength that they are very important, maybe even absolutely necessary to success. So, most of us MUST include them in our training. Yet the squat is a very taxing exercise, and including it can interfere with sports specific training. And sports specific training can definitely interfere with your success in building the squat and raising your basic strength levels.

So, how to balance the two? I am sure there are as many ways as there are successful coaches and athletes. There are certainly many ways to skin a cat. Daily maximums in the front squat with very low volume work for some. Squatting 4-5 days a week with sub-maximal weight that is slowly titrated up works for some. I will outline one method that I use in the sport of weightlifting that I have had success with. This method is mostly geared mostly toward those that are past the quick initial gains that come in the first 6 to 12 months of training, but are not yet at the point in training where PR’s come very, very slowly if at all, for instance someone who has trained 8 to 10 years in a sport and for all practical purposes is at the height of their athletic potential.

Training is done 5 to 9 times per week. For someone doing 5 workouts, we train Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, one time per day. To get to 9 sessions we add Monday morning, Wednesday morning, Thursday and Friday morning sessions. Ideally, this should happen gradually, 1 extra workout added at a time. But, no matter if the workout count is 5 or 9, the basic plan and principles remain the same.

Squatting happens 3 times per week. And it is structured to interfere as little as possible with training on the competition exercises, and to let the competition exercises interfere as little as possible with increasing the squat.

On Monday, we have 1 or 2 training sessions on snatch and clean and jerk or related exercises. They are hard training sessions, and the athletes are tired after they are done. And they squat AFTER these two sessions. They are too tired to produce maximal effort, and they are not asked to. They do, usually, 3-5 working sets of 3-5 reps on the back squat. Three sets of 5 reps is common, at a sub-maximal weight. If your best set of 5 is 240kg, 210 to 220kg for multiple sets of 5 would not be unusual. The one or two training sessions consisting of the snatch and clean and jerk related exercises definitely lower the weight used in the squat. But it is still produces a powerful training effect.

On Tuesday the training is easier, and we don’t squat. It consists of exercises which reinforce good technique in the competitive lifts, but also exercises where less weight can be used than on the competitive lifts. We still go to a daily maximum, but the exercises themselves are easier. Think power snatch, or snatch with no hook grip and no foot movement. And power cleans. Push press or push jerk, or presses and jerks from the split position. In general, an easier day than Monday.

Wednesday is another hard day. One or two sessions depending on the lifter. Hard training on the snatch and clean and jerk, or related exercises where roughly the same weight can be used as the competition lifts. Think clean and jerk, or cleans from a block. Snatches, or snatches from the hang or off a block. And again squatting after, when the lifter is tired. This time, front squats. Usually about three working sets, reps from 1 to 3. Yes, the lifter is tired, but, these front squats are less strenuous than the back squats on Monday and easier to recover from.

Thursday. Either no training, or, a fairly easy session. Like Tuesday, exercises that help reinforce good technique, but let us recover from the beginning of the week so we are as fresh as possible on Friday.

Friday. A light session in the morning, or no session. For the athletes who do Friday morning training, we do the competition lifts, but at lower percentages. It is mostly a tuneup for Friday afternoon. On Friday afternoon we go to maximum on the competition lifts, snatch and clean and jerk. It is the day we are most recovered and able to do he biggest weights, given Thursdays lighter training

On Saturday, we begin our session with squats, and try to make new PR’s. We have fresher legs on Saturday than any other day because it has been two days since we squatted, and Fridays training, although it was high in intensity, was low in volume compared to earlier in the week. After squatting we do overhead strength work, and maybe pulls.

On Sundays we do no formal training, another reason why doing our most difficult squatting on Saturday works well. Doing our hardest squatting prior to a day off helps limit the interference that being sore or tired from heavy squats can have on training the competitive exercises.

One further thing we do in regards to programming for a month or several months is to “cycle” the squat intensity. We do not really plan this, we just let it happen. As an example, maybe a lifter has PR’d his best set of 5 on the back squat for 4 weeks in a row, and the weights on Monday and Wednesday have followed right along, going up each week. It is normal for a lifter to run out of recovery ability simply because they are consistently handling weights that they are not used to. The squatting WILL start to interfere with the training of the competitive lifts. And this is just fine, because you HAVE to get your squat up if you are a weightlifter.

But, when the string of PR’s end, we don’t bash our heads against the wall continuing to challenge maximal weights and new PR’s. We back the weights down a bit. Reset, so to speak. Backing the weights off 8-10 percent is a good rule of thumb. In some cases even more is appropriate. Then of course we start systematically raising the weights week by week again, hoping that in 3-4 weeks we will pass the old PR’s.

After a reset, when less than maximal weight is being used in the squat, is often when the best training in the competitive lifts happens, because the legs are more recovered.

Keep in mind that this is not the only program I use. But it does seem to be reliable and effective, the general principles can be followed while allowing quite a number of tweaks and modification, and I imagine the principles would also work well for strength sports other than weightlifting.

Do most of your high volume and difficult work on competitive lifts or events early in the week, with moderate intensity but higher volume squatting done at the end of the workout. Allow some rest on Thursday, do your highest intensity work on the competitive lifts or events on Friday but keep the volume down, then pound your PR’s in the squat when you are fresh on Saturday.

Hope this helps someone.