We are not doing as well as we want to in USA weightlifting, this much is true but there seem to be some incorrect assumptions that we don’t have strong Olympic lifters, or that our best are not as strong as the best in the world. Let’s look at a few weight classes.
Let’s start at 94kg. We have a Junior (19 years old) lifter who back squats 250kg for a triple. One of the lifters who was near US record levels a few years ago had a 290kg front squat. Obviously there are many more examples, but these two are sufficient to demonstrate that our best lifters in this weight class, both junior and senior, do not lack in strength when compared to the strength levels of lifters who win medals at the Olympics. We have several lifters in this class who can out squat Kolecki, the polish 94kg world champion. Of interest also might be the fact that the current top US athlete in this class, Jon North, is not a big squatter, although we are working hard to turn him into one. He regularly defeats lifters who squat 20-40 kilos more than him.
Let us move down a weight class to the 85?s. Kendrick Farris our top lifter in this class, and Matt Bruce, our second best lifter, can both out squat, out front squat, and in Kendrick’s case out deadlift the vast majority of European athletes, and the majority of athletes who defeat them in international competition.
Moving down again to the 77?s, we have, or recently had, Lance Frye. I am going to say that his “strength” numbers, again, were probably better than at least half of the top 10 lifters in the world in his weight class. Even so, he was regularly defeated by Chad Vaughn here in the USA, who had much less impressive squat numbers.
Going further, we arrive at the 69kg weight class and Caleb Williams… I believe currently our second best athlete. Although he has been regularly defeated in the past by another lifter from Georgia who squats much less, his squat and front squat numbers are, once again, as good as any, better than m ost in his weight class on the international level. Caleb is an ex-powerlifter, a world champion I believe, who is truly gifted in the strength arena, but his great squat and deadlift do not allow him to defeat European lifters who squat less but snatch and clean and jerk much more.
Should we continue to move down in weight class, and talk about Tim McRae, who probably outsquatted ALL of his competitiors on the international stage? Or should we move up in weight class and talk about Mark Henry or Shane Hammon? What about Wiley Webster who pulled an 800lb deadlift in high school at the 220lb weight class but was entirely unsuccessful in weightlifting? What about Pat Mendez, could the author of this article match his 800lb squat without a belt or wraps?
The fact is that although not all weightlifters are super strong (neither are all powerlifters) the USA has certainly had a number of folks in the past 20 years with truly world class strength on the “slow” lifts.
A second assumption seems to be that the OTC isnt worried about strength. This assumption usually comes from those outside of the OL community, because within the weightlifting community, the knock on the OTC is usually that they concentrate TOO MUCH on strength, endless squatting and pulling and pressing, and not enough on the competitive lifts. The list of athletes who have gone to the OTC and made huge progress on their squat numbers but negligable progress on the competitive lifts is certainly long.
A third incorrect assumption is that OL coaches in the USA don’t care much about strength. I am an OL coach in the USA, and I know that I care deeply about increasing the strength of those I am coaching. And, in my interaction with other coaches, I have yet to meet anyone who wouldn’t do pretty much anything to put another few pounds on their lifters squats. OL coaches, the majority at least, are obsessed with squat numbers and go to all lengths to improve them.
And last, there is the assumption that we have not tried any of the methods espoused by Louie Simmons or the “conjugate” method. Many have. I have. I drove all the way to Westside from ‘Wichita Falls, Texas with two of my lifters just to learn what I could from Louie. I have talked to Louie off and on on the phone since around the early 90?s, when I first started incorporating his methods into m y own training.
The problem is, no one, including myself had yet been able to get it to work. For a time I tried implementing things exactly as Louie described, with disastrous results. Then I modified it in ways my experience as an OL coach told me it needed to be modified with slightly better results… but in the end, I was never able to make it work as well as the method the Europeans and the others who are defeating us use, namely doing the competitive lifts heavy and often and squatting a LOT.
I have a lot of respect for Louie. I have taken valuable things from him that I use to this day and am grateful for. But as far as the system as a whole, I have tried it as have others, and no one had yet to be able to make it successful for OL. Great for getting the squat up, but that doesnt matter when the snatch goes down at the same time.
One example of a lifter who went down the path of chasing strength by de-emphasising the competitive lifts in training and trying anything to get his back squat and deadlift up.
Donny Shankle is one of the better known American weightliters. He did 165kg snatch and a 201kg clean and jerk in competition within his first 3 years of training. This was done with a front squat of about 230kg, and a back squat of about 250kg. He also deadlifted around 230kg At one point, after some frustration he decided to pursue a program of only doing the snatch and clean and jerk once a week, and trying very hard the rest of the time to raise his squat and deadlift. Using various methods, he increased both his back squat and his deadlift to over 300kg over the course of about 18 months. Oddly enough, he could NOT make personal records on the competitive lifts. Fast forward a couple of years, and he is back to training the snatch and clean and jerk in the European manner, meaning constantly, and has made a 210kg clean and jerk in training, a 204kg clean and jerk in competition, and a 173kg snatch in training, all new personal records. His front squat is back around 230kg.
His venture into the world of pursueing maximal strength at all costs wasted about 2 years, which is a lot of time for a guy in his mid-twenties who is in a sport that favors the young. The lesson? More strength is always good, but if you want it to be applicable to OL, it has to be gained and be able to be maintained within the framework of a decent OL training system. This is a lesson that has been learned time and time and time again by various weightlifters. But still, those outside the sport continue to propose that de-emphasizing the lifts in training and concentrating on strength more will lead to some sort of magic. We all want to squat more, but it has to be done within the constructs of a training system that favors the lifts and makes one good at them, o r it is not much use.
Coach Glenn Pendley
Former Junior World Powerlifting Champion
Olympic Weightlifing Coach