In the Media
Master coach, technical expert and evidence-based practitioner in weightlifting: An interview with Harvey NewtonSimon PR Jenkins
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Harvey Newton, who was team coach for USA Weightlifting in the 1984 Olympic Games, provides insights on how he learned about weightlifting technique. In particular, how he learned about the ‘double knee bend’ in pulling technique from his earliest mentor, Carl Miller, who shared his understanding about a scientific approach from coaches on a global basis. Harvey's development as an evidence-based practitioner was enhanced in a number of ways, including his continuing collaboration over many years with biomechanist John Garhammer who also shares insights in this article. Extracts from interviews with some of the coaches influenced by Harvey are also included.
Clean and jerk, coach education, explosive lifting, mentoring, periodization, snatch, strength and conditioning, youth weightlifting
Harvey Newton is the owner of Newton Sports, which he founded in 1989. He was National Coach for USA Weightlifting (1981–1984), including team coach for the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. He was Executive Director for USA Weightlifting (1982–1988) and then Executive Director for the National Strength and Conditioning Association (1995–1999). He was also Editor-in-Chief for the Strength and Conditioning Journal (1993–1998), and is a member of the Editorial Board of the International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching (IJSSC) (2006 – present). Harvey is author of the best-selling Explosive Lifting for Sports 1 and has written articles/commentaries for the IJSSC and its supplements.2–6
The origin of this article can be traced back to a personal communication with Harvey quoted in my review of Explosive Lifting for Sports on the ‘double knee bend’ in pulling technique (pp. 91–92)7 and the final sentence of the review: ‘In terms of bridging the gap between sports science and coaching, and improving coach education, future editions should further tap the author's expertise in weightlifting’ (p. 93).7 Harvey and I have worked together on several projects, including a visit to Leeds Metropolitan University, UK, in 2011.
1 - Newton H. Explosive lifting for sports, Enhanced ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2006.
2 - Garhammer J, Newton H. Applied video analysis for coaches: Weightlifting examples. Int J Sports Sci Coach 2013; 8: 581–593.
6 - Newton H. Professionalism, golf coaching and a Master of Science degree: A commentary. Int J Sports Sci Coach 2014; 9: 913–916.
SPRJ: What is your coaching philosophy?
HN: I am most interested in assisting athletes to optimize their potential. I consider myself a cooperative type of coach – I'm not interested in dictatorial approaches to things.
SPRJ: Who were early influences on you as a coach? Mentors, role models, people that you've maybe looked up to and learnt from?
HN: There were no weightlifting coaches per se when I started. Fellow lifters gave feedback, but we of that era were self-reliant and did not expect anyone to serve in a coaching role for us. This is in contrast to today, where most lifters seem quite dependent on coaches.
During my time at university I started to look at some of the prominent lifting centres like Los Angeles, New Jersey, Chicago and knew there were coaches, at least in name. This was not their career, but they loved the sport and were volunteers.
My earliest mentor was Carl Miller, the national coaching coordinator 1974–1978. Not embraced by many of the old guard that questioned who he was and who he coached, Carl had international coaching experience, and a very scientific approach to things. My days as a competitor were winding down, so I evolved into more of a coaching role. Carl was a great mentor and provided insights into what was available from many of the coaches in the rest of the world, namely a scientific approach.
SPRJ: What weightlifting literature did you study?
HN: I was limited to instructional materials provided in the ‘bible’ for weightlifting in the 1960s, the monthly newsstand publication, Strength & Health. A rival publication, Iron Man Lifting News, also did an excellent job of highlighting the sport. Information distribution slowly evolved from these generalist publications to hands-on clinic work in the 1970s, due largely to Carl Miller. Those of us in university settings took advantage of scientific publications such as Research Quarterly. However, sports science, at least in the United States, was in its infancy and the ‘backroom’ sport of weightlifting hardly lent itself to much scientific reporting. Specific publications that have impacted my career in coaching weightlifting include:
- Olympic Lifting Training Manual, Carl Miller, circa 1975, self-published, out of print.
- Theory and Methodology of Training, Tudor O. Bompa (2nd ed.), 1983, 1990, Kendall Hunt Publishing Company.
- Weightlifting: Fitness for All Sports, Ajan, T. and L. Baroga, 1988, Medicina Publishing House, Budapest.
- A Textbook on Weightlifting, Vorobyev, A., 1978, International Weightlifting Federation.
- The Two Hands Snatch, Webster, D. and A. Murray, 1967 (USA reprint), Iron Man Publications.
- The Development of the Clean & Jerk, Webster, D. 1966, Iron Man Publications.
- Proceedings of the Weightlifting Symposium, published by International Weightlifting Federation, every four years, in the year following the Summer Olympic Games.
- Weightlifting Yearbook (‘Russian Yearbook’ series). My first of these was in 1976 (UK, translation by Bryce). From 1980 to 1985, it was translated by Bud Charniga (www.dynamicfitnessequipment.com).
Comparing then to now, we have two central themes: (1) coaches from my era had little to work with in terms of written word, and (2) today's world of the Internet may provide (at least at first glance) much more relevant and up-to-date information on weightlifting technique. Unfortunately, I fear today's budding coach would consider my materials mentioned, passé. That's unfortunate, as I believe these early writings remain relevant today.
From the late 1960s through the early 1980s, research and exchanges of information gathered momentum. Remember, we lost the press lift after 1972. Until then some 40% of a lifter's training was devoted to the press. With this change we now had to consider the evolution from strongman to a more athletic type on the platform.
The double knee bend in pulling technique
SPRJ: What was revelatory in terms of applying science to weightlifting, where you changed your practice?
HN: Starting in the 1960s Dave Webster is largely responsible for providing to English speaking countries the most insightful discoveries into technique. A lot of information was beginning to appear from the scientific world.
In Iron Man Lifting News, April 1961 (Volume 7, Number 8, p. 3) Webster penned ‘An Analysis of Olympic Techniques.’ Examining the changes in pulling technique that would significantly change the sport, Webster presented two tracings from film showing the Polish lifter, Palinski with a world record 180kg clean & jerk (82.5kg category): ‘Here we see the bar nearly knee height [end of first pull, HN] and the legs almost straight in the drawing at left, and on the right we see the bar still higher [end of transition, HN] but he is driving with the hips and you will notice that Palinski has actually bent his knees again. Again this is a very unusual style, for we have never seen anyone else make this second bend of the knees. It is a very complicated manoeuvre and very few lifters could ever execute it effectively since it takes almost impossible coordination.’ In the right column, it states: ‘Palinski gets his hip thrust AND ACTUALLY BENDS HIS KNEES AGAIN WITH THE EFFORT [original emphasis], then follows through into a very full extension right up on to his toes, with head high.’
Webster quickly discovered that this action of rebending the knees and bringing the hips closer to the bar resulted in contact of the bar against the thighs. This was clearly against the technical rules of the day.
Webster later wrote that, as a solid association (BAWLA) member, as directed, he stopped talking about these revelations into pulling techniques. But he'd already found the secret to improved technique. We in the USA simply did not pay attention.
This was the beginning of the so-called double knee bend style of pulling. Several years later, as this practice and the resulting thigh contact became widespread, Americans were told to simply lift the bar and bounce it off the legs.
I've found the minutes of a meeting where Webster explained everything. The USA had representatives at this meeting, but details did not trickle down to the lifters.
Later, at a Pan-American conference clinic the Cubans explained how to pull properly. Our representatives again interpreted this as ‘bang the bar off your thighs.’ The USA probably lost, in terms of solid technique, a good 10 years, by not correctly applying what the rest of the world was doing. During this 10-year period we seldom rose to the podium.
The application of sports science was making a huge difference in lifting performances. This had all started in 1955 when the USA weightlifting team competed in Moscow (the first US team behind the Iron Curtain). We had Paul Anderson and most of the world champions. Smartly, the Soviets filmed everything we did and they then applied that knowledge. And, they improved on what we did!
The application of sports science
SPRJ: How would you describe Paul Anderson's technique?
HN: Inefficient! He dominated with a big press lift. His technique was crude, but he was so strong. Due to his size he had to clean with his arms inside his knees, which is unusual. He was not particularly flexible, and his heavy snatches included a fair amount of press-out. Here's an example of how the sport, with the help of sport science, has progressed over time. I have a video clip of Doug Hepburn, the Canadian 1953 World Champion performing a clean and jerk with 185 kg. He used a high split clean and a push press. By 2008 the South Korean female Olympic Champion, Jang Mi-Ran, clean & jerked 187 kg at about the same body weight as Hepburn. Who is stronger? Hepburn. But who's lifting more weight? The woman. We went from a period when weightlifting was ‘strongman picks up weight,’ a caveman approach to things, to a much more scientific application of efficient, athletic technique.
SPRJ: When did the Soviets start producing lifters who had what you would regard now as good technique?
HN: Changes in pulling technique came first from the Japanese in the early ‘60s. Once the Europeans started to apply science we saw an increase in the Soviet Union performances, along with the rise of other socialist countries such as Poland, Hungary and East Germany.
SPRJ: What did the Japanese contribute in terms of technical development?
HN: This is best illustrated by three-time Olympic medallist Yoshinobu Miyake. He was the first person to snatch double body weight. First, a couple of key considerations: (1) at this time we still had many lifters splitting, rather than squatting, in the snatch and the clean. The Japanese excelled at the squat style of lifting; (2) at this time the bar had to be lifted in a ‘clean’ manner, with no contact of the barbell on the body. The typical Asian build often exhibits a long torso and short limbs. A long torso (lever) and the use of the conventional technique presented a challenge. At the end of the first pull (bar at knee height) the proportionately long torso resulted in a disadvantaged posture. The Japanese started placing their heels together, with the toes pointed out, and in some cases, arms inside the knees. It was called the ‘frog style.’ This allowed the Japanese to exploit their generally outstanding leg strength. It also got the knees out of the way during the first pull, and allowed them to keep the bar much closer to the body throughout the trajectory. Short arms, a second knee bend, and the Japanese had come up with a very efficient double knee bend technique in which much of the lifting is done with the lower body.
Again, this resulted in bar contact with the legs, something clearly against the rules of the day. But Webster also saw the biomechanical advantage, and said that this was perhaps the greatest improvement in technique.
In 1968, the rules were changed so that there could be contact with the thighs, as long as there was no violent contact with the thighs. No one defined what would be judged as ‘violent.’
SPRJ: After the Japanese when did the next profound improvement in technique come?
HN: Until the 1990s, a weightlifter's costume was very brief with the entire thigh exposed. In using thigh contact the bar slid up the thighs, but this slows down the bar speed. Realizing this, lifters started in the early 1970s to apply talc or oil to their thighs. This was soon ruled out as we had lifters slipping and sliding due to the residue on the platform.
Inge Johannson, my Swedish counterpart, told me in 1980 that the Soviet technique had further evolved. They were hanging over the bar for a longer period of time during the transition and staying clear of the bottom 1/3 of the thigh (avoiding the drag factor). They then flexed the hips and knees more quickly to produce a plyometric effect. I immediately began tweaking the technique of the guys I was working with.
I soon noted another technique modification. Looking at John Garhammer's films in 1982 I noticed that the Bulgarians prepared to jerk with an asymmetrical foot placement, enabling the front foot to get out faster. This was clearly against the rules, but the officials couldn't see it.
A coach's job is to observe and to have some frame of reference as to why something is being done. For example, the rules forbid oscillation of the bar in preparation for the jerk. Despite the rules, large women with heavy loads on a narrow (25 mm) bar easily utilize some bar oscillation.
Bud Charniga has written a very interesting article for the European Weightlifting Federation proposing a change in the women's bar because they are lifting such heavy weights.
SPRJ:When you were involved with the Olympics what were you learning from the Soviets and the East Germans?
HN: Nothing from the East Germans – they wouldn't talk to the Americans! This was like trying to talk to the Cubans – the Cold War was firmly entrenched at that point.
The best comment from an East German was Harry Roewer, the head of East German weightlifting. The Soviets looked to criticize the 1984 Olympic venue in Los Angeles, and asked if there was any air conditioning. They said that the superheavyweights would need air conditioning. Harry Roewer stood up in a meeting and said, ‘Superheavyweights don't need air conditioning, they need physical conditioning!’ That was a slap in the face.
The Soviets were very cooperative in those days. They wanted American weightlifting to improve so they would look better when they beat us. The Soviets were open about sharing much of their information with us, because it didn't seem to make any difference – we weren't going to beat them any time soon.
Carl Miller and the double knee bend
SPRJ:Returning to Carl Miller, can you remember some of the specific things you learned from him?
HN: Carl first used the term double knee bend for pulling. That term is still frowned upon, even by the current leadership at USA Weightlifting. Many prefer to call this action an ‘anatomical accident.’
Carl was the first to describe to American lifters what was going on and he also was the first to explain how one might train this movement so as to optimize performance. This was at a time when other (self-proclaimed) coaches in this country were saying pick the bar up and bounce it off your thighs. Carl said it's a matter of repositioning the hips under the bar and then using the lower body to propel the bar upwards.
What is so obvious in video analysis remains a major bone of contention among American coaches some 40 years hence. This is one of the reasons we are unable to realize a unified approach to coaching weightlifters in this country..
SPRJ: Carl Miller originally coined the terms ‘double knee bend’ and ‘scoop.’ Are there situations when you're coaching that you will use ‘scoop’ instead of ‘double knee bend’?
HN: Properly executed, the key position involves ankle dorsiflexion that leads to the second knee flexion. So the hips lower, move forward, and finally extend upward. This is the same action seen in a countermovement vertical jump.
I use the analogy of an ice cream scoop, as it first goes down, then forward and finally lifts up. It's the same with a barbell.
In 1989 the late Bruce Walsh wrote an article in the NSCA Journal entitled the ‘The Scoop in Olympic Style Pulling Movements – Is it a Teachable Commodity?’ Bruce came out of the same BAWLA school of coaching as Webster.
This was my first exposure to the term ‘anatomical accident’ in terms of describing the double knee bend, or scoop action. Bruce said, if it happens, it is not easy to teach. It may happen in a good weightlifter, but if it doesn't happen, don't worry about it.
As it relates to a beginner weightlifter or a non-weightlifter training with weightlifting movements, I agree with Bruce. It is challenging to teach this movement, particularly if one learns to snatch or clean from the bottom up. In this case it is nearly impossible to have this ‘anatomical accident’ occur. The average person has no inherent desire to have bar contact on the thighs.
But consider: a few of us left from earlier days when thigh contact was forbidden re-tooled and learned how to pull properly. So from my perspective, this is a teachable commodity.
This point is why I so strongly believe in the use of blocks, and teaching from the top-down. Here a beginner learns the simplest, most explosive part first. And over time he/she returns automatically to the so-called power position when lifting from the platform.
So yes, the term double knee bend is more commonly used, but when someone seems a bit confused by it I will say ‘I’d like you to scoop your hips down and under the bar,’ then explode upward.
SPRJ: In your book Explosive Lifting for Sports you talk about ‘pulling under’ the bar that leads to the catch phase. Where did you get this expression?
HN: For years we've had proof that most top international lifters get under the bar more quickly (about 1/10 of a second, or 10%) than American lifters. This is a measure of efficiency. It is also a coaching challenge to correct.
My first exposure to the concept was in Weightlifting Journal (Volume I, Number 1, 1971), The Pull, by Bob Hise, Sr. Bob mentioned leaving one's feet in place and pulling down against the rising bar, i.e. getting under the bar more quickly.
This is a difficult concept to experience, but it can be realized. In Explosive Lifting for Sports I mention erroneously, that one could increase acceleration under the bar. Scientifically the term acceleration is incorrect, but I was trying to encourage moving more rapidly under the bar rather than simply falling into position.
In a similar vein, Mike Conroy recently told me that Pyrros Dimas, now working for the USA, was very upset at a junior camp because the lifters were not shrugging. Some said they had never been taught to shrug (thanks, ‘experts’ on social media!). We're not talking here about shrugging to further raise the bar, but shrugging in order to ‘pull under.’
SPRJ: What problems have you seen with people learning the clean without blocks?
HN: It makes sense to learn the explosive part first. The top-down teaching method strengthens the awareness of where the body needs to be in order to pull effectively.
With blocks the bar is stable so the coach can move the athlete around the bar. The athlete does not tire from holding the bar in space. The bar is at mid-thigh, the arms are straight and the ankles are dorsiflexed, the knees are in front of the bar. It's a simple matter of exploding upward with the lower body.
Most hang cleans are performed with the bar just above the knees. Lifting from this position kills any possibility of an effective double knee bend, although it can easily contribute to bouncing the bar off the thighs.
Starting from a hang just below the knees requires getting the knees out of the way, thus encouraging proper lower body mechanics and a double knee bend. Note: Photographs showing the double knee bend are shown in the online supplementary material for this article.
John Garhammer: Ph.D. in Kinesiology with emphasis in Biomechanics, is author of numerous books and scientific publications, and has been a competitive weightlifter for 50 years.
SPRJ: When did you come across biomechanist John Garhammer?
HN: John wrote for International Olympic Lifter. We probably first met when he was at Auburn University and the National Strength Center. I was fascinated to find someone who was applying science to the sport of weightlifting. At the time not many others enthusiastically embraced John and his work.
In 1981, the United States Olympic Committee created the Elite Athlete Project. This was a specially funded project and weightlifting was one of the very few sports that were included. John was part of the team I created, along with the late Michael Mahoney, PhD, who was a sport psychologist and lifter. Jim Schmitz was the coach. We brought in our most promising athletes, almost all of whom ended up on the Olympic team.
SPRJ: Can you provide some specific examples of what you learnt from John in terms of the application of science?
HN: It was reinforcement of what Carl Miller had been saying. I saw in high-speed film that John was hand digitizing the actual nuances of lifting's new pulling technique. That made a huge difference.
John is the only person I know who analysed force plate data to look at centre of pressure on the foot during the pull. Forty years later and this concept still is not known or fully appreciated by many US coaches. Bruce Klemens, a well-known weightlifting photographer, did a lot to back up what John was saying. This evidence was presented in both motor-driven still photography and in high-speed film analysis.
John and I still talk, usually once or twice a month. We discussed recently whether it makes any difference if the elbows are flexed when the bar is in a power position. While most coaches say that the arms should remain straight John's conclusion now – and he had a competitive career that lasted 50 years, including several masters' national records – is that the straight arm theory is probably not critical to success.
John has probably had a bigger impact on the international lifting scene than the American scene.
SPRJ: John, when did you meet Harvey and what did you learn from him?
John Garhammer: Harvey Newton has been a major influence on my 55 + year life in weightlifting. Primarily relative to understanding the intricacies of lifting technique, but also coaching and training program design concepts, and even some concepts and interpretations of my research.
We were both in attendance at the 1975 U.S. National Championships in Culver City, California. At this time I had been involved in Weightlifting for 10 years as a competitor, but at this championship I was collecting 16 mm film data from a position on the left side of the competition platform. It was to be the major component of my Master's degree research at UCLA. Although I do not recall speaking with Harvey at this time, I must have caught his eye with my camera position and we may well have had a discussion as to what I was doing.
One aspect of Harvey's interest in weightlifting was in the direction of administration, officiating, and the politics of the sport. These areas of the sport never interested me, just my own competitive career, a little coaching, and my research into lifting technique and the mechanical aspects of the classical lifts. It certainly has been beneficial to me to have someone like Harvey to consult with on issues related to the personalities and philosophies of administrators in the sport when I tried to plan research projects which required meet / facilities access and funding.
By 1977 and 1978, we were in contact and Harvey helped me to gain access and a small amount of funding to film at the first ‘Record Makers’ meet in Las Vegas and at the 1978 World Championships in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Both of these events gave me the opportunity to study some of the best athletes in weightlifting history from the Soviet Union and Bulgaria.
In late 1979, I took my first academic position at Auburn University in Alabama. Our weightlifting team there was coached by Dr Mike Stone. In March of 1980 Coach Stone said, ‘Let's support Harvey Newton's (Florida State University Open) meet in Tallahassee, Florida.’ Part of our team participated, and I made one of the best totals of my competitive career (122.5kg + 147.5kg = 270kg at a weight of 90 kg). What stands out in my recollection of this meet is that Harvey organized it, served as the announcer, score keeper, loader, and even ran back to the warm-up room a few times so that he could do some lifts on the platform and post a total. Never before, or since, have I witnessed one person do everything at a single meet!
By 1982, Harvey had become the Executive Director of USA Weightlifting (at that time the U.S. Weightlifting Federation) and the resident weightlifting coach at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center. I worked with Harvey at that time to submit a proposal for weightlifting research as part of the new ‘Elite Athlete Project.’ We obtained approval and funding for a rather extensive series of research projects that continued until just before the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. I also carried out 16 mm film data collection during the Olympic Weightlifting competitions and Harvey served as head U.S. Olympic Weightlifting Coach.
Since 1984 we have been in continuous contact and participated together in a variety of weightlifting related activities, such as USAW Level 1 and 2 coaching courses, and general coaching clinics. Some of these were in connection with the NSCA during the time when Harvey served as NSCA Executive Director.
A few years ago, we had a number of discussions over a period of months concerning the so-called ‘catapult’ pulling technique. We finally concluded that it wasn't a new technique, but was essentially a version of the long utilized double knee bend technique.
We talk about weightlifting issues regularly by phone, and have taken advantage of face to face discussions at both national and international competitions. I am fortunate to have met Harvey and to be one of his many friends in weightlifting. I look forward to many more years of collaboration.
SPRJ: When did you first start thinking about periodization?
HN: Mike Stone and I had competed together back in the 1960s, but I hadn't seen him for a while. At a 1979 Florida meet Mike asked if he could have a few minutes to speak with the lifters about this theory of periodization. It was an introduction to Matveyev and pretty much the classic linear periodization model.
I read of periodization in Michael Yessis’ publication, Soviet Sports Review in the 1980s. The idea of periodization had been presented, without that name, in the late 1960s via Strength & Health. There were articles on Soviet training secrets, East German training secrets, the Japanese training secrets, and so on. We knew what everybody else was doing, more or less, and we noted changes in intensity and volume within the year's cycle, but nobody at that time, as far as I knew, had applied the term ‘periodization.’
SPRJ: When did you become aware of nonlinear periodization models?
HN: Linear, nonlinear, undulating, block…. terminology! I first heard the newer terms and theories in the late 1990s. Correctly, some folks have taken a swipe at the classical (linear) model of periodization, as one does not simply change a program on a Monday morning after having just performed weeks or months of some other type of training. Proper periodization involves systematic manipulations during both preparation and competition phases, but this is not new. It all relates to Selye's General Adaptation Syndrome.
From my perspective Bompa's original text, Theory and Methodology of Training sufficiently outlines periodization. Variations on this theme, while interesting, can sometimes complicate an otherwise fairly simple concept.
SPRJ: Do you think the concept of periodization gets much light in the world of CrossFit?
HN: That's a good question, Simon. Yes, periodized training may have a place for those who compete at the regional or national level. I recently reviewed for IJSSC a submission dealing with this topic, but solid conclusions are difficult to reach. For the average Crossfitter, trying to adapt to the high volume of work, I doubt that periodization is an important concept. I don't think one can prove that periodization in the first year is what causes improvement.
Explosive weightlifting for sports
SPRJ: When did you start to get involved with athletes from other sports using explosive weightlifting?
HN: I was reminded recently that in the 1960s I took members of my high school cross-country team to weightlifting meets. My first attempt at offering a clinic on strength training for other sports was canoe-kayak in the late 1970s. At the Olympic Training Center (1981-1988) I worked with athletes from 23 sports. Weight training for sports gained momentum in the 1950s, but it's taken a long time to gain the near-universal acceptance we see today.
SPRJ:What technique challenges have you faced in working with athletes from different sports?
HN: Look at any complicated sports movement and consider the challenge of teaching this to someone not fully dedicated to that sport. As examples, let's look at pole vault or high jump. If an athlete is told to do either of these activities to improve their performance in another sport, the challenge increases. The same is true of incorporating the snatch or the clean & jerk.
Anyone can get the bar overhead while making technique errors. But, in so doing the lifter fails to optimize their potential, to say nothing of perhaps becoming injured.
So teaching non-lifters our lifts is: (1) a challenge, and (2) sometimes not worth the effort. Every rep performed inefficiently makes it that much more difficult to eventually acquire the correct action.
SPRJ: What are the typical issues you face in trying to make weightlifting movements more efficient in a high-school football player?
HN: One of the problems with the typical American high-school football player is they don't squat through the full range of motion. They do partial squats with a lot of weight. Why would you do a partial squat? According to the research I have studied, the knees go through more stress with a partial squat than a full squat.
But kids are looking at numbers and the coaches are encouraging them, especially with the bench press. When I was at school we did not have a bench for bench press; there was a wooden bench you could lie on and do various exercises if you wanted to, but if you were going to do a bench press someone had to hand you the barbell. Nowadays most high school kids can bench press more than they can squat, which is a huge lack of priority for a sport like football. And they don't do the bench press in particularly good form either – a lot of bridging and bouncing the bar off the chest.
Football coaches tend to ignore training the low back, which is an important area for the competitive weightlifter. We often see football players that cannot get into position for a snatch or clean. They are so tight in their upper body through excessive hypertrophy, and they lack strength in the low back.
SPRJ: Athletes from what sport are you able to coach most readily in terms of going from crude power clean type movements to more efficient, explosive actions that are done in a safe manner?
HN: USA Weightlifting has been seeking future lifters with cheerleading and gymnastics backgrounds. Both sports produce many positive characteristics that make a transition to weightlifting fairly easy. Athletics (track and field) is another.
Weightlifting in youth
SPRJ: I was reading an article recently that one of the differences between the typical kid in the UK to one in New Zealand is that the former develop basic skills in soccer such as dribbling whereas the latter develop basic skills in rugby such as picking up a low pass. What should kids be doing to promote efficient technique in weightlifting?
HN: Similarly, years ago I read a study on javelin that concluded in America we are used to throwing things, so we're very upper body dominant. Europeans are very lower body dominant because they're used to kicking. Successful javelin performance, not unlike weightlifting, involves efficient use of the lower body. This is our “proximal to distal” sequencing mantra so necessary for success in our sport.
I like the model of kids learning, at an early age, how to snatch and clean & jerk, along with wrestling, gymnastics, swimming and so on. I remember watching in 1982 a group of 30 Hungarian youngsters learning to lift, in stages, with wooden barbells. These kids weren't necessarily going to be weightlifters. But they were learning the sport of weightlifting and how to do the movements properly.
An area of debate in our coaching education courses is worthy of consideration at this point. We have had a number of coaches suggest something called the American Development Model (ADM) as the key to future success. This suggests that athletes move through various stages of learning, and then loving a sport. They reach their peak performances during young adulthood.
So far, there is no disagreement from me. However, much of the current attention of USA Weightlifting is directed to the performances of two youth lifters, both of whom are well ahead of the schedule called for in the ADM. Why do we say one thing and promote another? While I worked at USA Weightlifting we had a minimum age of 13 for competition. After I left this was removed, and now any age lifter can show up and make (or miss) a lift on the platform.
Recently, there has been discussion about this model. Some coaches want the 13 and under age group to be evaluated on technique with a fixed percentage of bodyweight. Others prefer to maintain the current system, letting lifters of any age make or miss whatever weights they attempt. In my opinion, it is highly unlikely that anyone under 13 years of age is going to still be competing in weightlifting at a high level in their mid-20s, the time when optimal results occur. They'll be burned out, physically and psychologically.
But now we have the International Olympic Committee (and the International Weightlifting Federation) staging Youth Olympic Games and World Championships, respectively. This only encourages coaches, parents, and athletes to specialize early.
I strongly favour technique competitions, along with an evaluation of general physical fitness. However, lacking consensus on proper technique in America, how could this ever occur?
Coach education and mentoring
Ed.D., Associate Professor of Kinesiology & Health Science, LSU-Shreveport, USA Olympic Coach 2012, 2016, USOC Coach of the Year (3x), Doc Councilman Award for Sports Science.
SPRJ:Kyle, when did you meet Harvey and what did you learn from him?
Kyle Pierce: I moved back to South Florida in 1974. In my first weightlifting competition Harvey was the announcer. He tended to make comments critical of lifters' technique, and mine was terrible!
Later, through contact with Foster Cather, a national-level lifter and my training partner, I learned Harvey could be very helpful. The next year I went to one of Harvey's clinics and learned about effective pulling technique. One of the best clinics I've ever been to.
Harvey hired me to work at the NSCA when he was executive director in the mid-1990s. We still talk sometimes once a week.
I left Colorado Springs to come back to Shreveport and start the USA Weightlifting Development Center, a free programme for university and neighbourhood kids. Harvey gave me all his international coaching books that he had collected from different countries, copies of the biomechanical analysis poster that John Garhammer and he had developed, and all the sequence photos from the 1978 world championships. These remain a wonderful teaching tool.
Physical Therapist, Physician's Assistant, 1984 & 1988 USA Olympic Team, Creator/CEO DC Blocks.
SPRJ:Derrick, when did you meet Harvey and what did you learn from him?
Derrick Crass: At age 20, I got accepted into the Olympic Training Centre (Colorado Springs) resident program. Harvey was the coach there. Harvey immediately taught me efficient technique, and immediately my lifts went up.
I learned classic pulling technique, barbell trajectory, and what happens at the end of the pull. This was instead of just yanking on the bar, banging it off the thighs, and getting underneath it.
Harvey, a former infantry Marine who fought in Vietnam, taught me the difference between what are reasons and what are excuses. I didn't realise it, but I was an excuse-maker. In one competition, I bombed in the snatch with 145 kg, then attempted an American record with 205 kg in the clean and jerk. I missed it terribly. Harvey was quite stern with me and said that if I didn't listen and learn I was never going to make the Olympic team. I told him, ‘I was scared.’ He came back with, ‘You're scared! What are you scared about? It's not like you're being shot at!’ That moment changed my life.
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Belleville’s Crass twice took the hard road to the Olympics
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