Tag Archives: weightlifting

Size verses Strength

On the podcast this morning, we got on the topic of how muscle size relates to strength.  Many do not realize this, but size of a muscle is very, very closely related to the strength of the muscle or amount of tension that muscle can produce.  So why aren’t the biggest bodybuilders the strongest athletes?  Well, strongest at what?


This is an interesting question and the answer is part physiology, and part physics.  The physics part is pretty straightforward.  The human body applies strength through a system of levers, or bones.  The arrangement of these levers is just as important to how much force can be applied in any movement as the amount of tension the muscles involved can generate.


Let’s look at an example.  Donny Shankle is a pretty strong guy.  He also has an extremely long spine as a proportion of his height.  For a lifter proportioned like Donny, flexion/extension of the torso is always going to be difficult.  If you have trouble imagining why this would be, imagine you tried to hold a 1 meter stick with a 10 pounds attached to the end perfectly vertical.  Not too hard, but now imagine you tried to hold it at a 10 degree angle.  What about a 45 degree angle?  The 1 meter stick represents Donny’s spine, or the spine of anyone built like him.  Imagine how much easier it would be to hold the stick either at either angle if it was a 1 FOOT stick instead of 1 meter.


This is why Donny is a superior front squatter, where the torso is kept very close to vertical, a reasonable back squatter where the torso has a moderate forward lean, and a terrible deadlifter where the torso developes lots of forward lean.  Do you ever wonder why the world record holder in the squat rarely also holds the record in the deadlift?  Same reason.


Luckily for Donny, he chose a sport (weightlifting) that utilizes the body God gave him very well.  But the reason why the biggest muscle isn’t always the strongest has a physiological basis as well as a physics basis.  The weightlifting snatch and the powerlifting deadlift at first glance would seem to be very similar lifts.  Yet one regularly leads to the development of pretty big muscles, and one rarely does.  Now I love Weightlifting as much as anyone, and more than most, but let’s be honest.  A big snatch doesn’t automatically mean big muscles.  Developing a big snatch is as much about speed as it is about strength.  Applying force at high rates of speed is a neural adaptation more than a muscular one, and developing motor patterns is more important to snatching big than big muscles are.


Bodybuilding and weightlifting are two activities at opposite ends of the spectrum, and powerlifting is somewhere in the middle.  But just as you will never see a 500 pound bench press and a 5 minute mile done by the same person, you will never see a 20 inch arm and a 200kg snatch by the same person either..   Some things are just mutually exclusive.

Build it Yourself.

2015-12-05 20.47.24


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.

Where Does it Hurt?

A few years ago I heard something that really made sense to me.  I did not know it at the time, but it would eventually really change the way I coached the lifts, and thought about programing.  I did not hear it straight from the source, only 2nd hand, actually it might have been third hand now that I think of it.  I did not know Joe Mills at all.  Never even met the man.  But every time I hear someone talk about the things he used to say, I pay attention because it seems like so many of those things really, really make sense.

I believe it was Joe Dube that told me Mills told him that after a training session you can often tell if your technique was correct by where you are sore, and what muscles are fatigued.  Actually it might have been another lifter from that era telling Dube that Mills used to say that, I forget.  But however Dube heard it, the principle  remains the same.

Mills believed that after a hard training session, the body as a unit should feel fatigued, but there should be no one area that feels especially tired.  If the fatigue is centered around your legs, or centered around your lower back, it means you are doing something wrong and overusing that particular part of your body.
That simple statement has huge ramifications.  Think about it for a while.  Think about how you feel halfway through, or after a training session.  What does that tell you about how you are doing the lifts? This is a typical Mills quote, seemingly very simple but only after months or even years the importance of it finally sink in.

Leo Hernandez


Leo Hernandez is a 26 year old lifter who was born in Cuba.  He began weightlifting in the Cuban sports system.  He began training at age 9, he says he would go to school for half the day then after school the weightlifters were picked up by the coach and driven to the weightlifting training center.  He says they trained 2 or 3 yours, but the training in Cuba for lifters that young did not emphasize heavy weights at all, nested they were “graded”  on their technique.

Leo says that the program was very well rounded, and emphasized GPP and lots of basic physical skills designed to prepare the kids for the heavy specialized training they would have to do as teenagers.  There were lots of sprints and jumping, and a lot of different variations of the snatch and clean and jerk.    Leo entered a sports school at age 12, and at that time his training increased to 6 days a week.  At the sports school, the athletes went to school for only half a day, from 8 am till noon, then the afternoons were reserved for training.

While in this training camp the athletes followed the Russian school of lifting using a very periodize approach, lots of volume, and a large variety of exercises.  Leo says he make good progress every year till he was 16 at which point he went into the Cuban military for 2 years.  Once out of the military he opted to go to university instead of taking up his weightlifting training again.

At age 22 Leo immigrated to the USA.  He did not resume his training immedietly though, instead he worked for a couple of years, but people kept asking him about lifting, and why he had given it up.  So, eventually Leo decided to resurrect his career.  He says that starting to train again was the hardest thing he has ever done.  His first competition he snatched 130kg and clean and jerked 156kg.  At the 213 Arnold he lifted 135kg and 165kg, and the next year at the Arnold he increased that to 141kg in the snatch and 170kg in the clean and jerk.  At the 215 Arnold he did 148kg in the snatch and 184kg in the clean and jerk, but bombed out at the 2015 nationals.

The bomb out at nationals forced him to go to a Grand Prix in China to earn a spot on the world team

here is a quick peak at how leo is training for the 2015 Worlds.


Muscle Snatch

70/4 80/3 90 4/2

Push press 2 sec stop in the deep

100/3 110/2 1253/2

Romanian Pull

120 4/6


Snatch + OHS

70/3 90/3 100/2 110 /2 120 2/2

Clean and Power Jerk

100/3 120/3 140/2 147 2/2

Back Squat

140/4 160/3 185/3 200/2 220 3/2

Accessory 20 min


Power Snatch

70/3 90/3 100/2 110/2 115 3/2

Power Clean and Jerk

100/3 120/3 130/2 140 2/2

Clean Pull

170/3 195 3/3

Accessory 20 min


Snatch balance

90/3 110 /3 130/3 145 3/2

Hiper snatch pull

155 3/3

Military Press

100 5/3


Hang snatch

70/3 90/3 110/3 120/2 1302/2

Clean and Jerk

100/3 120/3 130/2 145/2 155 2/2

Front Squat

140/3 165/3 180 4/2

Accessory 20 min


Rest day


Power snatch

70/3 90/3 100/2 1103/1

Snatch Pull

150 3/2

Push press

100/4 120/3 1303/3

Accessory 20 min



70/3 90/3 100/2 110/2 122/2 132 3/1

Clean and Jerk

100/3 120/3 140/2 155/2 162 3/1

Back Squat

160/3 180/3 200/3 215 3/3

Mobility 20 min


Power snatch of the blocks

70/4 90/3 100/2 110/2 1173/1

Power clean and push press

90/3 110/3 120/2 135 2/2

Clean Pull

185 3/3

Accessory 20 min

Jessica Lucero


Jessica Lucero is a 26 year old weightlifter from Florida, and found the sport though the Florida high school program.  Danny Carmargo was her first coach, and he actually worked at her high school in a city funded after school program.  Jessica used to train for the high school sport (which is bench press and clean and jerk) during the school day, then start working with Danny right after school.

She describes her program during that time as very basic, just the competitive lifts and the power versions and squats and pulls 5 days a week.  Jessica says she always had problems doing lifts in competition that she had done in training, and shis is one of the reasons she rarely finished in 1st place.  But in spite of a long like of 2nd and 3rd  place finishes, she continued to improve her total.

Jessica lifted as a 53kg lifter in high school, but became a 58 lifter while going to Northern Michigan for college for now year.  After leaving Northern Michigan, she moved to Idaho for a year, and trained with Michael Conroy.  Eventually she was offered a resident spot at the the training center in Colorado Springs, and she took it.  She trained at the OTC for almost 2 years. then moved to California to train at Catalyst athletics in for a year, then moved back to Florida to live with her parents.

At that point she met her husband and moved with him to Colorado.  She is currently living in California again, staying with her husbands family so that she can train full time.  Jessica has medaled in almost every national meet in 2013 and 2014, but 2015 is her first time winning Senior Nationals.  It was at that meet where she qualified for the World team.

Jessica says that strength has come easy for her, but self confidence and the mental side of the sport has been more difficult.  But she says that her present coach, Aimee Anaya-Everet has been a big help with mental preparation, and she feels that she is in a very good place right now with a lot of self confidence.

Kathleen Winters


Kathleen Winters

Kathleen Winters is 22 years old, and began weightlifting when she was 19.  She has had quick rise in the sport, in fact she might be the least training experience of anyone on this years World Team.  Kathleen is coached by Steve Gough and resides in Montana, where she has resurrected Steve’s old team, Team Montana.

Steve was her first, and so far, only coach.  Kathleen was formerly a high level gymnast, although she is quick to point out that she never made it to the “elite” level in that sport.  She competed in gymnastics from age 2 to age 14, and when she gave up gymnastics, she very quickly found a new activity, Crossfit.  Initially her only interest in weightlifting was as something to help her get better at Crossfit, but her mother decided to enter the world masters games and to qualify she needed a total in a weightlifting meet.  She trained for the meet, but unexpectedly broke her foot the week before.  Since plans had already been made, and the entry fee paid, Kathleen decided to just take her mothers place at the meet.

Kathleen did well at the competition, well enough in fact to qualify for Junior Nationals, the American Open, and Nationals all at once.  After that she started training seriously for the next national meet on the calendar, the 2012 American Open.  Kathleen did well at the Open, totaling 147 which was good enough to earn a Bronze medal in the 53kg class.

While Kathleen had been Crossfitting, Steve had come to the gym where she trains frequently to coach weightlifting classes, so picking him as her coach made sense.  Having discovered that weightlifting was something she was good at and could compete in at a high level she continued to train with Steve Gough about twice a week, he drives down to her gym to watch her biggest training session on Wednesday and Saturday and on the other days she trains alone.

She competed in the next Junior Nationals as a 53kg lifter also.  She earned silver medal at Juniors, and did well enough to qualify for the Junior World team.  She totaled 159kg at Junior Worlds, enough to earn 12th place.  A few months later, she also made the Junior Pan Am team, where she got 2nd place with a 160kg total.  She competed in the 2013 American Open, but unfortunately she bombed out.  Kathleen took some time off after that bomb out, but came back strong for the 2014 nationals, totaling 165kg and placing second.  After Nationals Kathleen got extremely sick which caused her to lose a lot of weight, and force her into the 48kg class.

The new weight class has worked well, she won nationals in 2015 and made the senior World Team.  Kathleen will be competing in Houston in November of 2015 representing the USA at the first Weightlifting World Championships held in the USA in 40 years.

Here is an out like of Kathleen’s training program


front squat, work up to a max double  ( she makes a new PR about once a week)

snatch up to a max for the day (if she feels good, this might be a PR, if not it will always be at least 90%)

clean and jerk up to about 80% for 5 singles


snatch to at least 90%

clean and jerk 10 singles at around 70%


front squat to 90% to 95% for 2 doubles

max effort snatch

max effort clean and jerk

then max snatch again

she sometimes snatches more the second time than the first

then if she is feeling really good, she might take 10 or 15 minutes, then snatch for a third time

Thursday is usually a rest day but sometimes might do a crossfit workout on Thursday, but nothing heavy


front squat to max double

snatch to about 90%

clean and jerk to 85% roughly


snatch to max

clean and jerk to max

go back down to around 85% for 5 to 8 singles on clean and jerk

max snatch again

Sunday  rest

Alex Lee


Alex Lee a 69kg lifter from Chandler, Arizona. Alex started weightlifting in 2005 when he was 16 years old. He was introduced to weightlifting by his high school football coach, and he started training 3 times a week, doing snatches, clean and jerks, and squats.  He recalls that they did a lot of squats, and a program that was very general in nature with a lot of assistance movements, almost like a bodybuilding program.  Alex met Joe Micela at Gold’s Gym, and started training with Joe.

Alex ended up training up to 8 times a week with Joe, and he made a lot of progress. By 2010 Alex had done very well in national competition,  he totaled 275 in the 69kg weight class but cut down to 62kg for collegiate Worlds, and won that meet.  He ended up having a falling out with Joe that year and taking on a new coach, Shahin Nasirinia, a former world champion from Iran who had recently immigrated to the USA.  Nasirinia helped Alex really kick his training into high gear, taking Alex with him to a training camp in Mexico for 4 months where Alex got to train alongside several Olympians.  In 2012 Alex also attended a training camp in South Korea for  for 6 months and he thinks that both international training camps added to his knowledge base and helped him progress along the path to his goals.

Partially because of his attendance in the two international training camps Alex did not compete in 2012 or 2013, but in 2014 he totaled 305kg at 69, then in 2015 he totaled 308 to make the 2015 world team.  Alex was actually a resident at the OTC for about 9 months in 2015, but he ended up going home and training with Shahin again,At this time he is still training with Shahin and will soon compete for the USA  in the 2015 World Championahips.

Alex trains with between 9 and 13 sessions per week, and they only count the volume of lifts above 90%.  Monday, Wednesday, and Friday he does snatch, clean and jerk, squats, and pulls, all over 90% for mostly singles and some doubles, and repeats that basic formula 2 or 3 times throughout the day.  He will often go right up to his max on the snatch and clean and jerk, with up to 95% for doubles on the squat, and up to 110% of his snatch or clean on pulls.  On Tuesdays and Saturdays, he does the power versions of the lifts, but still often does 2 workouts.  On Thursdays he does something different, which could range from just playing basketball or doing sprints, to going to a bodybuilding gym and doing some bodybuilding exercises.  With this schedule and only counting the lifts that are above 90%, Alex often lifts over 5 tons in a day, and over 35 tons in a week.