Category Archives: crossfit

Dealing with Imperfections.

This is one question that never goes away.  We all want to improve, most of us are willing to work our ass off the improve, but most are plagued with doubt about which program to use, and why.  Every aspiring champion has doubts about the program they are using, and whether or not it is the right one.  And who can blame them?  The Bulgarians maxed out constantly, and they did pretty well.  The Russians and others did a more varied program, with lots of different exercises and rep schemes, seemingly a whole different style of training.  So what should WE do?  Who should we copy?


I for one don’t think we should COPY anyone, but we can certainly learn from everyone.  America is a unique country, and we will need to come up with unique methods.  We are one of the only countries in the world with a large population of recreational weightlifters, or lifters for whom winning is not part of their livelihood.  Some think of this as a disadvantage, I disagree.  It simply makes the genetic pool we draw from bigger.  This pool is where we will eventually find the people who will move us back to the top of the sport.  I am biased towards the Bulgarian way of doing things, and always approach training with the mindset of wanting to go as heavy as possible, as often as possible.  I am impatient, I want to move that max clean and jerk up as fast as I can.  But although my default position is always to max out, I know there are a lot of reasons why a constant diet of nothing but maximal lifts often doesn’t work out for American lifters.


For one thing, we are not all perfectly suited to the weightlifting movements.   None of us were selected at age 9 for perfect limb lengths or other factors that make superior lifters.  Some of us are just built wrong!  Whether the problem is a spine that is too short or two long in comparison to our legs, or elbows that don’t completely lock out, these physical imperfections mean that we are not lifting machines designed solely for weightlifting!  This does not mean we will never snatch or clean big weights, it does mean we might have to resort to extraordinary means to do so.  Whether this means that you have to do way more push presses than jerks to build the necessary strength in your shoulders and triceps, or whether like Jared Fleming you have to resort to isometrics to build the necessary pulling strength to break an American record reaching your best total is likely to mean more than just maximum snatches and clean and jerks.  In fact you might have to resort to completely different methods of training, like Jared did.


Most lifters who do not quickly become national champions or world team members are lacking strength in at least one particular motion.  Fleming lacked pulling strength, others might lack strength in the squat or lockout strength on the jerk.  If you have lifted for a year, and you have not yet qualified for nationals or aren’t yet high on the ranking list for the world team, don’t fool yourself.   A lack of strength in some movement is the problem.   The Pendlay WOD uses lots of back squats and push presses, and even deadlifts for part of every 8 week cycle as the fastest ways to increase pulling, squatting, and lockout strength.  These strength exercises are programmed twice per week with one higher volume and session and one higher intensity session every week. They are pushed HARD.  If you are allergic to grinding our heavy sets of squats, this training program is not for you.  On the other hand, if you believe gaining muscle and getting strong are necessary parts of the sport of weightlifting, come on over.  We will get along just fine.     

Look on the Bright Side.

IMG_0194So you were not designed by God specifically to break world records in weightlifting.  Yes, that is a tough pill to swallow, but it is what it is.  So you probably can’t simply max out on the competitive lifts  your whole career.  You will have to find a way to fix yourself.  Your future probably holds various exercises like squats, push presses, and deadlifts or pulls.  But look on the bright side, if you are like most people reading this you have two working hands to grip the bar and a body that works well enough to actually do a snatch or clean and jerk.  Some people are not so lucky.

But there remains the question, how to make the things we have to so beside snatch and clean and jerk carry over to snatch and clean and jerk as much as possible?  As I sit here writing this, I am watching Rachael Davis do push presses.  I have told her and told her to separate each rep with a pause on the shoulders.  Yet when she gets a little tired and finishing the set is in doubt she still lowers the bar straight into the dip portion of the dip and drive.  This makes the set a little easier to finish.  For most people anyway.  It is not really cheating, and the difference is slight, but there is a difference.
But, for an exercise to carry over, it not only has to work the same muscle or muscle group as the movement you want to affect, it has to use the same movement speed, the same basic force curve, and the same range of motion.  The more similar the two movements are, the more the carry over.  So if you want your push press to help the jerk, separate each rep with a pause.  Make most of your reps fast, as fast or almost as fast as a jerk.  Avoid ‘grinding’, or any reps with a noticeable slowing of the bar.  Dip to the same depth on every rep.

If you try to do this it still won’t make your push press carry over perfectly to your jerk.  But it will make it carry over a hell of a lot more than if you do them sloppy and slow.

An example that is a little more obvious is the deadlift.  In the past I have not been a proponent of deadlifts for weightlifters.  But after coaching enough lifters with a long torso/short leg body type I have softened by stance.  I am still not a big fan of pulls, feeling that the deadlift can be done heavier and at least in theory should lead to faster strength gains.  But if you have a strength deficit on the pull and are going to deadlift you sitll need to not only keep the same joint angles as when you do the weightlifting movements, you need to keep the same bar speed when possible.  So there should be very few pulls when the bar is just crawling up your leg.  When possible,  the bar should be moving at roughly the same speed as it does in the snatch or clean.  If the start position is the same, and the bar moves at roughly 2 meters per second, there should be a lot of carry over.
In my next blog in this series I will talk about how Caleb Ward made sets of 5 in the back squat as specific to the clean and jerk as possible.

Build it Yourself.

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If no assistance exercises at all is the ‘perfect’ training program, why do so many people do so well using assistance exercises for the bulk of their training?  Some people try a program with a brief exercise list, do badly, then switch to a program more like the Russian system, with a ton of assistance work, and do much, much better.  Why?

The answer is simple.  Most people are not genetically ideal for weightlifting.  As I sit here writing this blog, I am looking at James Tatum.  A very good lifter.  But far from a ‘perfect’ lifter.  His legs and arms are too long.  He is not a very good squatter because of this.  Recovering from the clean is very hard for him.  Recovering from a heavy clean and having enough energy left to complete a jerk is even harder.  On the other hand, with a 160kg (U77) snatch in training during the last training cycle, he is a pretty good snatcher.  And he is tough as hell, and sometimes able to pull off lifts that look so hard, they make my teeth hurt to watch.   But even so, if I was God and trying to design the ideal olympic weightlifter, it would not be James.

Jared Fleming has done some great lifting here at Muscledriver.  He is one of the most exciting lifters to watch.  Definitely one of the most exciting that I have ever coached.  But his torso is too long.  Because of this, the pull off the floor is really, really hard for him.  True, once he gets the bar close to his hips he can make some crazy things happen.  But the pull off the floor is sometimes so slow I doubt he is ever going to get it to his hips!  But in spite of this, he owns the American record snatch in the U94 class.

Travis Cooper has got to be everyones favorite.  He is such a nice guy.  And that goes way beyond weightlifting.  He is genuinely one of the nicest and best people that I have ever known.  But his arms don’t lock out quite right.  So the lockout on both the snatch and the jerk are always very hard for him.  We do a lot of extra work trying to make his lockout as strong as possible.  In fact all three of the athletes I mentioned do assistance exercises to help them build up their weak points.

Cooper is always trying to improve his push press, James knows his success or failure as a lifter is going to depend on getting his squat up higher, and Jared does deadlifts, a lot of deadlifts, to improve his bar speed off the floor.

Figure out what your weak point is, and pick assistance exercises to help bring the weak point up.  If your parents did not give you the ideal body for weightlifting, build it yourself.

Specificity vs Adaptation



Everyone knows how to make the body adapt.  Simply do an exercise that you have not done before.  Or do several sets in a rep range that is outside the norm.  You will get sore, but over the next few days the soreness will go away, and when you repeat the exercise again and again, you will have less soreness each time.  Eventually you will have none.  The body has adapted.

But as weightlifters, we do the same exercises over and over gain.  Not exactly ideal for adaptation.  But if all you do is snatch and clean and jerk with near maximal weights, it is ideal for SPECIFICITY.   Every adaptation that your body makes will be perfectly suited to the task of heavy snatches and clean and jerks.

If you add heavy squats to the mix, it will surely help make your legs strong.  But, the increased leg strength will not be perfectly suited to the snatch and clean and jerk.  Squats do not occur at the same speed as the snatch, the force curve you need to apply with your legs is not the same as the force curve in a snatch, and the range of motion in the squat is not the same as in a snatch.  It is the same with every assistance exercise that we do.  Doing things other than heavy singles in the competition lifts allows us to greatly increase the adaptations in our bodies, but those assistance exercises also cause the adaptations to be less than perfectly suited to the of maximal lifts in the snatch and clean and jerk.  So there is a trade off between adaptation and specificity.  What is great for one, is bad for the other.
Abajiev was a proponent of training with a short list of exercises.  He pared down the 50 or 60 exercises used by the Russians until he was left with only the competition lifts, front squats, and the power versions of the competitive lifts.  But even that was not as far as he wanted to go.  He theorized that the PERFECT training system sould be maximal singles in the snatch and clean and jerk, and nothing else.  No squats, no front squats, no pulls.  He wanted to try this but he said the people who were paying him were paying for a proven system and he was not sure that a system without squats would work.  His system WITH squats definitely worked, so to make sure he kept producing he continued with the proven system.

My next blog will cover the REAL reasons we do assistance exercises!

Wednesday June 24th PendlayWOD


snatch 60% x3x3

clean and jerk 60% x3x3

front squat 80% x3

competition this saturday!

Saturday June 20th PendlayWOD


7 days till competition.  No heavy lifting left, just the taper.

Back squats 70% x3

Push press 60% x5

Wednesday June 17th PendlayWOD


snatch up to 80% for 3 singles

clean and jerk to max.  Allow up to 3 misses.

Front squat 85% for a set of 3.

post your weights

we are getting close now. Ten days till you compete!