Or you could be 18 or 25. This letter is still to you. That picture above? That is who you want to be. It burns in you so hot you can hardly sleep at night. You think about it obsessively. (When you're not thinking about sex) How to get there? How to be that guy?
You have an athletic background. You were one of the better athletes in your high school. You wrestled or played football or soccer or maybe basketball and track, perhaps several sports. But you were pretty good. Maybe very good. You grew confident in what you could do as an athlete, and with good reason.
You lifted weights as part of your training for those sports. You liked it. You liked how it made you look and feel and, more so, how it led to physical prowess on and off the field. Maybe you were too short for college ball, or you played DIII ball, or you got a DII or even a DI scholarship that didn't work out after a year or two. Still, you liked training in the weight room. It had become part of your life. You grew up with the internet, so it was natural to research strength training. You learned about Smolov and 5/3/1 and The Bulgarian Method and Starting Strength and the Russian Squat Program. Because you are a smart guy, you even decided to maybe start an exercise science major in college and make it your life. You went deep into the weeds with Seyle's General Adaptation Syndrome and the SAID principle, anatomy and physiology, Tudor Bompa on Periodization and Medvedyev and Roman on training principles for weightlifters.
Yes, you had stumbled upon Weightlifting as a sport. The speed, power, and athleticism quickly hooked you. And luck of all luck! There was an established coach and weightlifting club nearby ready to take you on.
That first year of training went so well you thought you might make the Olympics. Your technique improved rapidly and your strength grew and your lifts went up and up. Your coach knew so much and was so helpful. With all your research and reading you knew what he was talking about and you could have intelligent discussions about it. That was an exhilarating time.
Then you tweaked your shoulder. Or your knee. Or a wrist. Or the last squat cycle beat you down and you didn't hit a new PR. It set back your training for weeks or a couple months. Your coach had some ideas how to adjust, how to work around the trouble. Sounded good, but perhaps there were other things you could try. So you went back to the internet and did some research. You talked to another coach at a local meet and asked his opinion. You listened to a podcast in which Famous Coach X said the kind of squat program you were on didn't work. Or he expressed wildly different views on technique. You started to compare what you knew and what others knew with what your coach knew and your coach started to look not so smart after all. You talked about it with your lifting friends in the gym, or talked to other club's lifters about their program and their coach.
And that is when you put the first foot on the path that leads your career into a blind alley. Or a brick wall. You start thinking there is a straight, scientific, and predicable path to success. That there is something your coach doesn't know that other coaches or lifters do know. With the right change in program or emphasis or some other coach, you'll get unstuck.
You are wrong. I'd like to sugar-coat it for you, or tell you that you are half-right, but you are not. You have enough knowledge and experience to stop yourself dead in your tracks. A coach is more than programs and technique teaching. A coach is outside perspective impossible to have about your own training and career. A coach is someone who has watched you closely for a long time, who is constantley learning and adjusting to how you respond to any particular cue or program or improvement in diet and recovery. A coach constantly assesses and adjusts. Coaching is a long series of judgment calls and refinement of knowledge of a particular lifter. No coach knows everything, but given time and your attention, they can know YOU, probably better than you know yourself.
I've watched many more of you than not hit this place in their careers and fail to overcome their own egos. Self knowledge comes in too-small doses and the requisite humility is probably years down the road. You'll stall. Your progress will stop and I'll watch you flail in your attempts to find your own answers. You'll lower your goals or change them. You may well fall out of the sport altogether. It deeply saddens me, but it is an experience so common to me and other coaches that we've become hardened to it. We often like you as people, but we know the next talented athlete is probably minutes from walking in the door. We'll try again with someone else, see if we can get through to them better than we got through to you.
In any case, I'll likely be at Nationals and the American Open Finals with lifters again this year, as I have been every year for more than a decade. But I doubt I will see you, because your best thinking will not get you there.
Reorienting to Your Legs in the Pull
Weightlifting is a leg sport. If you've been Snatching and Clean & Jerking for a couple years or more that may seem obvious, given how often and how heavy weightlifters squat. However, the way many lifters move you'd think them unaware of the importance of their legs in a lift.
Setting up the legs to explosively drive the barbell away from the platform is not a natural movement. Learning to do it effectively takes time and a downward reorientation from the default habit of arms being the primary interface with the the environment. Early on new lifters are taught to take their arms out of the pull so their back, and especially their legs do the work. But it may take thousands of reps to start feeling their legs at work in a full-speed lift.
There are some drills that can help speed the process of learning to feel the legs in the lift. One of the first drills I use is the Shift & Stand Drill. This drill teaches slowly what you will do much faster in the actual lift. Many physical skills in other sports are first taught slowly and gradually sped up. It is a time-tested way to acquire new motor skills, but for some reason we in weightlifting have accepted the orthodoxy that "you can't teach the double knee bend," as if gospel. The "double knee bend" or "scoop" can be taught. I do it every day. This transition is left to luck or fate or innate athletic ability by far too many coaches. It should be worked and understood, as this can speed up the process of feeling the legs working in the lift.
The Shift & Stand drill teaches what I believe to be the most difficult part of the pull to master: the transition from bar at the knees with torso angled forward over the bar, to the power position with torso just behind the bar, to vertical drive with the legs. It also teaches the proper mid-foot, heels-down balance point from which to drive up on the bar.
After the Shift & Stand Drill, I sometimes use a jumping drill I learned from Sean Waxman of Waxman's Gym. (My good friend coach Don McCauley may blanch at using the word jump, but every now and then, understanding the context and correct application of the concept, even stubborn old coaches like me can make use of heresies that can help our lifters) Using the Shift & Stand Drill before this jumping drill makes learning the jumping drill much easier to perform and master. Between the two drills, most lifters will start to feel the "quad punch" from the thighs that drives the bar up. They will begin to feel the correct direction of the drive and the power of the legs to accelerate the bar. The way I teach this drill, the lifter will land flat-footed no more than one-and-a-half inches behind a line drawn on the platform. Too far back is bad, forward over the line is worse.
Something to note about these drills or any drill; they are solutions to problems that have the potential to produce new problems if not applied judiciously. Every drill can introduce new technique shortcomings if overused or used too long. The Shift & Stand Drill can cause the top of the second pull to be too mechanical and slow. I use it only as long as necessary to get basic mechanics down, then try to get away from it. The Jumping Drill can cause the athlete to dramatically overemphasize the top of the pull, causing them to linger at the top of the pull and ruin the timing of movement under the bar. This can be corrected with lifts from high blocks or No-Feet Snatches and Cleans, but the more ingrained the problem, the longer and harder the effort to fix it. That said, the Shift & Stand Drill and the Jumping Drill can go a long way toward getting the athlete to really feel their legs at work at the top of the pull.
Weightlifters suffer through so much squatting in training that you'd think THAT was the sport. It isn't, but you can't be a great weightlifter without powerful legs. Nor can you be a great weightlifter if you don't know how to get that leg strength into your pull. So if you want huge weights to go up, you have to start thinking down.