T Nation

In My Opinion... We Suck


In my opinion.. We suck.

There, I said it, as a 'North American' (Yes, I'm not just talking about the United States, Canada too.) I see this every four years - we just can't do it. I'm talking about medalling in Olympic Lifting at the Summer Olympics. Yes, yes, we've gotten a few silver/bronze here or there and the occasional gold, but, have we ever been able to 'dominate' like eastern-European countries and Asian countries? Of course not. Why? Well, I could blame it on the idea that we are built differently than our Asian/European counterparts. (we have longer limbs, they have short, etc..) But, I think that there is a much more obvious reason that we all seem to ignore.


As an up-and-coming 'powerlifter' this may seem bias, but, its the truth. Our Olympic Athletes have been moving towards this whole 'technique training system', doing their two main lifts almost daily and essentially and ignoring the posterior chain. For example, look at the 'successful' Asian/Eastern-European athletes, they have massive erector muscles, lats, traps, hamstrings, calves, etc. Not just that, but, they are highly explosive, efficient athletes that are focused primarily on rapid force production, high-threshold motor unit recruitment, core stability, flexibility, mobility around all major joints, etc.

No Olympic Lift Training with PVC pipes here...

While I'm all for training for technique, we have been going about it all wrong. I've heard stories from athletes about how their coaches took weight off of their main lifts (sometimes up to 90-95%) for 4 or more weeks at a time, in an effort to 'fix' their technique to try and make them more of an efficient lifter - nice. The result? Reduced performance, decrease in strength and explosiveness.

These 'coaches' make all of their athletes spend their time on technique training, while they should be training for strength! Here's what I suggest for all up-and-coming Olympic athletes - or even olympic athletes who are in 'the game' right now and are looking for some advice.

60% Strength Training (Squats, Deadlifts, Bench, Rows, etc.)
20% Reactive Ability Training - or "Plyos"
15% Olympic Lifts
5% Technique

You may be thinking, "This guy's crazy, train olympic lifts only 15% of the time?! I'll never get better!" Slow your boat, internet warrior. Think in the context of a football player; they train, train and train all week for that ONE game. Football is a physically and psychologically straining and demanding sport - just like olympic lifting. In Football, you are constantly being pushed to your physical limits, the same goes with your olympic lifts. The human body is just not designed to withstand the heavy and explosive pounding that comes with O-Lifts. You have to distribute training stress evenly or you won't see any gains - more likely, you'll end up hurt and on the re-hab table for months, maybe even years (That'd be worse than 'training for technique').

I'm a HUGE advocate for strength training and reactive training for olympic lifters (and especially powerlifters). The ability to lift a large amount of weight very quickly is the name of the game! I'm not talking about going and doing 3 sets of 10 reps in the power rack, curling the bar - and the bar only. (Seriously, don't get me started...) I'm talking about going in there and lifting heavy things with compound lifts! If you have a good base of strength already (which most of you probably don't) than you should be lifting heavy triples, singles and doubts with the multiple variations of the Squat, Deadlift and Bench (much, much more emphasis on the Squat and Deadlift). Think Westside; Mex Effort and Dynamic Effort Days. Mix in some Speed work on DE days, reactive training and lots of dynamic and static flexibility - don't forget to foam roll! Once a week you'll work your O-Lifts into one of your ME training days (you could even set aside one day per week specifically for O-lifts) or, my personal favorite, work one of your Dynamic effort training sessions in the AM and have a O-Lift session in the PM. Just remember, stress economy is important!

Yes, I'm sure by now your asking yourself "Why the hell should we listen to this guy?"

Well, I'm here to say this - you don't have to. You can choose to skim through this article and completely ignore it, some of you will choose to 'troll' it, (I'm prepared to back up anything I've said) but, I hope that some of you will take what I've said into consideration and choose to follow my advice.



so, you're saying if you're an olympic lifter you should practice the 3 power lifts more than the o-lifts?... and only do the o-lifts once per week?

Would you tell an NHL hockey player to only play ball hockey except for one day per week where they practiced skating?


Two totally different situations.

Look at the O-Lifts. They are extremely powerful lifts that require both maximal strength and speed. What are the best ways to produce both MAXIMUM amounts of strength as well as producing speed?

The three powerlifts of course.

Look at the mechanics of the 'Clean and Jerk', for example. The lifter goes into the 'squat postion' and than fires upward. Break this down into two explosive exercises the squat and the overhead press.

There are more than one ways to train for olympic lifting and I believe that primarily training for it is not the best way. Think 'functional training' (one of my least favorite terms in the fitness industry). The functional crossover between the three power movements and the O-lifts are HUGE. Train those three movements, as well as accessory lifts - accompanied with O-lifts, reactive ability training, etc. And I gaurantee you'll be a more powerful and efficient athlete.



Oly lifting is not in your culture. North americans are good at other sports i.e. track and field, basketball etc. How many people would know what is it is if you asked them?

Plus why would a teenager who is showing signs that he is good at oly lifting go into a sport with no pay or recognition. When he could go play american football and be a millionaire.

Strength has little to do with it.

Looks super weak to me.



Your correct. The athletes who have high amounts of strength, speed, power and explosiveness are either playing a professional sport where they may HUGE amounts of money - think, the NFL. Or, they are a high level powerlifter.

I can honestly say that if you find me a NFL Runningback or a high level Powerlifter they would be able to perform both of the O-Lifts, heavy - but, with the 'I'm doing this for the first time' type of technique.

Strength kills.



I don't think you can look at a jerk as an explosive overhead press, but that's just me.



The lifts are seperate. I don't mean to incorporate them into one, single lift.

The movements are similar and therefore I believe that there would be a functional cross over between the two. PM me if you'd like to have a discussion over it - I'd love to talk training.


This is the reason why we're not great at weightlifting.
Not because we spend too much time on the competition lifts.
Or perhaps it's because in China it's not frowned upon to have an 8-year old lifting weights because they want to groom him to be an Olympic champion. Nobody in America does that.
But they do put their 8-year old in pads and a helmet and hand them a football.



So, so true.

Different cultures - yet, we try and compete at the same level. If we want to be a competative force on the Olympic stage, than I guess we better start changing the way we train.

Oh, and I love football - I play it here in 'snowy ol' Canada'. I train Olympic Lifts and the 'big three'. I believe that they are huge components to my success and the success of my team mates who train with me.



I guess my other post got deleted. Made a little joke about you being Louie Simmons and posted a link to an article series by Lyle McDonald about why the US sucks at olympic lifting. He's pretty long-winded and it's a very long read, but it is a very interesting read, I thought. Guess you'll have to find it for yourself though.


The movements are similar, but the jerk is distinctly different from any version of overhead press in that the emphasis is as much on getting under the bar as it is getting the bar as high as possible (much like a squat snatch or squat clean). And personally I've never had much carry over from a strict overhead press or even a push press to my jerk.


A lot of americans seem to really overestimate the popularity of weightlifting in european countries. Being at uni in england, I've met quite a lot of people from countries like bulgaria, greece, turkey etc and talking to them it becomes apparent that weightlifting really isn't close to the "national sport" a lot of americans seem to think it is.

Check out this for example:

That's the belarus nationals, they have Aramnau and Rybakou lifting and it's just held in some gym somewhere, with a pretty small audience. Not exactly massively popular clearly.

And to the original poster. For the most part I definitely agree that for many weightlifters strength should be placed much higher, though I disagree with your proposal. My coach is constantly telling me I need to get a massive squat. You seem to be under the assumption that for an olympic weightlifter, they don't gain any strength or power from the olympic lifts themselves which I strongly disagree with. An olympic lifter is going to get a lot more explosiveness from doing the olympic lifts than plyos. And olympic lifters really don't need "speed days" like powerlifters do as every time they do the lifts they are doing speed training.


For the most part IT IS STRENGTH that is lacking for 90% of the lifters...

Farris has a funky ass Jerk, he has been inconsistent and I can't remember the last time he has made 200 in comp. Amazing athlete, and HE IS STRONG from the videos I've seen. Sn is down due to technical issues.

Shankle is a 165/205-208 man. What else can you say about that? B/C Class lifter. You will need at least 170/210-215 absolute minimum to rank top 10 in the World. Love the guy, but he is near the top but not quite there. Hopefully he'll find the extra edge and make it in the next few years.

Pat, not really done anything crazy on the World stage, young, very very strong, has a solid coach, he has years ahead of him. It'll be sweet to see how he progresses over the next few years.

If you can FS 220kg for a double LEGIMIATELY 3 days a week (meaning it isn't ball bustingly hard but a fairly regular weight for you) you have an amazing chance at 160/195 mininmums imo AS LONG AS YOUR TECHNIQUE IS FAIRLY GOOD.

I was at the Olympic test event. I saw A/B class lifters and I'd say only about 1-2 in each group were faster than me, the rest were not. They were about the same speed. But they all FS at least 70-100kg more for doubles on any given day. This Thai guy did an easy 230 for a double my mate said. He did 165/200 ish at 94. Technique was good, speed was good, Jerk was good. Everything was good. He didn't look like he could Sn 100 LOL then slams out 165/200 LOL.

Also remember guys, the top 3 guys at the World were at least 10-15kg ahead of everyone else! one thing to make an A class and be bototm, another to be middle of the pack and a totally different beast to ACTUALLY MEDAL. It's like running sub 10 being a freak show. Then running 9.9 and you will come about middle of the pack!!! I think at Beijing 6 guys were sub 10 FFS! That is OBSCENE.

Technique IS A MUST. AS long as you don't have any GLARING ISSUES and your f0cking strong you will put up big numbers.

Of course this is just my opinion. I've been competing for 12yrs and it's only this year that I've come to the realisation that you need to be obscenely strong to put up big weights. Unless you have seen guys totalling 360-380 in action and in the training halls you do not get it.

And yes the culture thing is huge in the states. If you had lifters lift when they were 11-13 full time they would all be better. And if you changed the whole mentality about being stronger. Yes lifters train to be stronger but the emphases is not on squats. This is pretty much the same for most UK coaches. I know my coach made me stronger but the emphases wasnot on squats. This is not how I coach my lifters. Technique yes, but there is a huge emphases on squats.

I tell them if you can't squat something for at least 5reps you will never CJ it in comp. General rule is 3 but in comp it isn't a one off lift. You have to do 3 Sn and then get at least 1 CJ in. You got to squat a chunk of weight if you want to lift a chunk.

I've met lifters that were very sharp and fast but not hugely strong and thus they never lifted big weights.



I think a big problem is the age at which Americans start to train. Our best athletes begin to train in their late teens or early twenties. In most other countries they begin to train when they are under 10 yrs old. When the atheletes are so young, you can train them with light weights (pvc, training bars) and really make the technique natural. Then as they get older the technique is already there and all you have to do is let them get strong.

For us, we are strong but then have to learn the technique.
I also feel there is too much emphasis on "perfect" technique here sometimes.


They dont allow linking to Lyle's site. So youll just have to google the article series 'why the US sucks at Olympic Lifting' to find the series.


Great stuff guys!

I love to read and talk training - especially powerlifting and O-lifting.


I agree with you, completely. Strength is extremely important when it comes to O-lifting. Many athletes tend to overlook it. When combined with O-lifts, technique training, etc. I believe that you'll build the efficient athlete.

Also, it's in my own personal opinion the reactive ability training ("plyos") would benefit a O-lifter (as it would most any athlete if implemented properly), but, I would not expect you to agree, as I'm sure you've become successful following your own style of training.


Our best lifters are the ones that start late. Most North Americans don't 'discover' O-lifting until their primary sport comes to an end (ie: College football, get tired of powerlifting, etc.) than the good athletes train and become 'average'.

I wish that we could implement a training program to start athletes at a young age and teach them proper technique, movement training, etc. and when their bodies are prepared, start general training (heavy strength training for example).



I just looked at the Canadian Weightlifting Associations website and it looks like it it was created around the time the first computer was.....

Regardless, In this day and age where every other sport is developing a LTAD Strategic plan there must be some country somewhere that at least has a fundamental structure somewhere laid out for athlete development for the sport of weightlifting (Russia perhaps)?

From my standpoint being involved previously as an elite amateur athlete in sport and working in the sport admin field that an LTAD plan for weightlifting applied to youth would have the opportunity to be adopted(or at least parts) into other sport programs as the athletes grow. If they choose to go into a different sport so be it, however when their playing career is finished they could always have that base of good form and proper training to fall back upon.

A lot of rhetorical questions in that statement I think, but just what I think I think haha!



many athletes tend to overlook strength as a component of weightlifting? for reals? i thought the significant majority made the mistake of thinking they could muscle shit around instead of putting the time and effort into taking weight off the bar and working on technique.

pretty sure there is an optimal balance somewhere...

that probably involves starting out really young where the body solves the problem fairly naturally...

but this topic is a frequent one, yeah.



Strength is overlooked SO much for weightlifting, coaches assume that if you simply go through the O-lifts at about.. 50-60% of your 1RM, than you'll automatically get strong and be able to throw up huge numbers.

They couldn't be more wrong.

Your right, there most certainly is a optimal balance. With the aforementioned countries like China, they have their kids trained with technique at a young age (we're talking 10-11 years old) and after some time, they add on weight and than eventually they introduce them to heavy lifting of conventional weights (deadlift, squats, bench, rows, etc.), this usually happens much earlier than our western cultures would recommend, (sometimes as young as 12; some in our culture suggests that we don't even look at a weight until we are 14!) and by doing this, they become much more neurally efficent, strong, powerful and confident. If you do something for a long enough time, your body will start to recruit MORE and more motor units and you become more powerful.

This can also be true for a 18-year-old American football player who has been 'going againt the norm' and strength training seriously (heavy) since they were 13 and than one day decide to start O-lifting; but, they won't be as efficient in the lifts at first, with practice they become much more technical and, this is how the US Olympic Weightlifting Team is born..


Have you encountered this personally from a coach? I don't know of any in Nova Scotia and it sounds like you don't train at an Oly club so I'm curious where you get this from. Actually I hear it a lot on the web and so I'm wondering of that is where you get this impression from or have you real life experience with a coach who follows the approach you're critiquing.

I don't know a lot of coaches but the ones I have met have ALL put a strong emphasis on strength and squatting.