T Nation

Why US Lifting Sucks


You guys may not read or care much about elite, but I was just curious of what weightlifters in the states thought about this.


(I'm not taking the articles stance)


The argument that US lifters' main shortcoming is a sheer lack of strength, and if they trained liked powerlifters they would be more successful does not convince me. In particular, the author's assertion that US lifters spend too much time training the competitive lifts and that this accounts for their relatively poor international performance is logically weak. The fact is that the best olympic programs around the world focus on the competitive lifts; that is not a peculiarity of the American program.


So our team doesn't focus more on technique than other successful countries?

Any answer as to why we seem to have fallen from grace? What is different?

Is it just a lack of national interest? Top athletes go into other sports?


This is from the perspective of someone who is just getting started in Oly lifting and is non-American so take it for what it's worth.

Countries such as China, Russia and other Eastern Bloc nations recruit potential athletes at a very young age. They are full time athletes - all their peripheral needs such as education, food, shelter are taken care of. They need only to focus on one thing. There are some youtube vids floating around of an 8yr old doing a C&J of 75kg and a 14/15 yr old doing a C&J of 140kg - both Chinese lifters I believe. That is just astounding.

Also, a lot of these potential athletes come from poor backgrounds, and the monetary rewards of success in oly lifting far outmatches the opportunity cost of dedicating your life to lifting (eg being a poor farmer or factory worker earning next to nothing). In America isn't the opposite true?


I think the main reason is that its not a popular sport and you don't get much help. The only help I've seen offered almost freely is from the cal strength guys. Then again in russia idk how things are now but there are plenty interviews that say how little help(mainly talking money here) the older lifters got, yet they always were and are strong in this sport.

I think primarily it also has to do with the work ethic and the culture. I bet if you ask most people who lift, they'd probably think its crazy to think that you can make the best progress by lifting 2-3 times a day. In countries here in europe I think they'd find it crazy to hear 2-3 times a week is enough. You also won't hear as much crap about squatting and half squats and knee trouble and all that. Powerlifting is also far more popular in the US and less in the rest of the world compared to olympic lifting, so they might be trying to use stuff from powerlifting in olympic lifting, but doesn't seem to work. We also tend to demand results, get tired, make excuses and so on. I don't think the chinese lifters or russians or bulgarians do this as much. Last I think its also technique. I haven't watched any american lifters and thought "wow amazing technique". Not that they have bad, its good, but compare it to this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-B00MTx4hMY


Now, I'm Canadian so maybe take this with a grain of salt, but here's my two cents.

I disagree with most of what he says in that article. I think he's wrong about what the issue is. The arguments he dismisses (more stringent drug testing stateside and a lack of interest/youth involvement) I believe carry more weight than his assertion that the American weightlifting training programs are inferior to the conjugate system. In this sport, performance enhancing drugs can make an insane difference, and the attitude towards these substances is completely different. Here in North America, you are practically crucified if you are found to have "cheated" in this way, especially with the way steroids have been portrayed as evils of the highest order in the media. Athletes in other countries serve their suspension (training while juiced up all the while, I'm sure) and then come back and compete again.

Also, the lack of awareness about olympic lifting and funding for high level lifters results in almost nobody starting the sport at an early age. This is another issue he dismisses, but if you look at other nations who are very successful in olympic weightlifting (China, Russia, etc) they start training the o-lifts at a young age. Over here we're lucky to have someone who knows what a snatch or a jerk is, let alone a place to lift proper and a coach who actually knows technique. Not to mention all the best athletes get snapped up by other sports (football, basketball, baseball, hockey, even wrestling).

I also don't agree with what he's saying about the relative merits of strength and technique in olympic lifting. This sport is as much technical as it is strength based. Are there other countries out there with elite athletes winning medals who don't do the lifts all the time, but rather do other strength work and more specialized exercises to work on their weaknesses? I'm sure there are, but these athletes have also been training the lifts since they were small children and have the movements ingrained into their nervous system. Very few athletes in north america start at such an early age, and thus do not have that technique imprinted into their muscles, and so they need to keep working on it. Are there coaches out there who swing the pendulum too far towards technique and have athletes who are weak as shit? Absolutely, but I don't think those guys are coaching olympic hopefuls.

This is already getting too long so I'll just say one last thing. He mentions Americans winning powerlifting world championships, but I checked world champions in the IPF (too lazy to go through all the feds) and found that an American male (didn't check the women, sorry ladies, time constraints :P) hasn't won an IPF world championship since '08, and there has been a distinct decline in American powerlifting champions over the history of the IPF. Maybe puts another hole in his argument.


Best atheletes in the 'Stan's or Iran compete as o-lifters. Best atheletes in the US play Div 1 football.

Kris Davis


That is weird timing. I just found that piece yesterday after the discussion with Wrah. Don't think I have anything to add to points that have been raised already (with the link and in here).

Guess I'm learning something about the politics of US weightlifting.

Certain things are making more sense to me now.


Actually, I do have something to add.

Weightlifting, the national sport in Nauru:




Poorer countries:

  1. Better nutrition and drugs with scientific monitoring at an early age. Parents are cool with this (see #3).

  2. Lack of financial opportunity in sports (NFL, NHL, MLB, MLS, etc) and also white-collar work.

  3. Cultural differences in what they look up to/think is cool/respect.


  1. What the hell is olympic weightlifting?

  2. Lack of abundant good coaching. Ever seen a high school football coach teach the "power clean?" Haha.

  3. I'm working an 8-6 job making six figures in USD. Screw this lifting stuff. It's just a medal.

Americans for sure have the talent to kick the world's ass in weightlifting. I have known natural 105 kg class powerlifters who could muscle clean 400 lbs with no technique. Hell, look at this dude, a "typical" D1 football starter at a good program.

That's a 170 kg "power clean" which doesn't even deserve to be called a muscle clean. It's so ugly, it's absurd. But just think if this guy had been trained by a competent coach since he was in middle or even high school!

Perhaps being so financially superior to the rest of the world dooms unpopular sports like olympic weightlifting to the dredges of our athletic accomplishments.


Just because you have the strength to get an ugly clean with 400 pounds doesn't mean you have the speed/power/flexibility/technique to full clean 500 pounds (which the top guys at 105 in o-lifting are doing). Although who knows, maybe if they actually trained o-lifting from a young age, you'd find the guys with that blend of attributes.

And a big LOL at Aaron Curry being "typical"


What if a guy like Aaron Curry was taken in at an age of 12 or so? It's not like these guys couldn't play football as well. Just to have the proper coaching, form, and loading is a huge advantage most US athletes are missing.

And then you have the Mark Henry problem. USAW gets all excited that they have a super-strong guy, train him up, and pay him nothing. Then along comes Vince McMahon, owner of WWE. "Hey Mark, want a $250,000 job with travel and TV stardom?" What would you do given the choices?


if it was all about strength then shane hamman(i'm sure i'm miss spelling that) would have brought home a gold medal. his best squat was like 1003 or something, it doesn't get much stronger than that.


I find it interesting that different people have different attitudes when they approach the bar.

Some people get hyped focusing rage or aggression against the bar...

Other people get calm focusing some kind of peace / attitude of merger with the bar...

Sometimes people vary a bit through different parts of the lift (e.g., something more like aggression for the grind components)

People in the US (more than other places?) seem fond of the idea that Olympic weightlifting is all about hype and rage and brute strength.

I wonder if that results in unreliable technique / inconsistent results.

In the sense that if your focus is solely on weight moved then taking weight off in order to develop technical mastery seems boring (rolls eyes)...

Whereas if one takes pleasure in technical mastery taking weight off in order to ingrain the movement / motor program doesn't feel humbling or like one has to check the ego at the door because one takes pride in seeing qualitative progress...

I'm sure there is an optimum balance.

I think this has an impact on where you look for the next generation of weightlifters. A lot of people seem focused on finding the strongest (in the weights room, powerlifters etc). How about gymnasts? Why think it is easier to train flexibility, strength, and speed than it is to train strength? I thought speed was hardest, actually...


I am sort of mixed on his views of the article. I think he neglects to consider the difficulty of the lifts and how much practice they require. However, I think his point on working on the weaknesses is valid not only to weightlifting but to every other sport. We need to stop looking for the magic program and program for the individual needs of the lifter. Some lifter need more strength work, and some lifters need more technique work.

As far as other factors are concerned, I think that popularity is a reason for the lack of weightlifting success. Why would anybody strive to be a weightlifter when they can instead play a sport that brings fame and fortune? I will not buy the argument of football taking all of our athletes, though. This is because football is not likely going to be taking athletes who would be lifting at 77kg and lower.


Can someone give me an example of a weightlifter who is limited by strength rather than technique?


Pendlay has a forum where they de-bunk this article in one of the threads. And according to Pendlay, that Chuck V story is an urban legend.


"get a lot stronger. Thatâ??s what is missing from our Olympic lifting programs"

that article is bullshit, 3x255k is a fucking massive squat for a 85k lifter, for example Andrei Rybakov was doing 3x240k couple days before he won the silver in Beijing


There are actually a lot of lifters I've seen who compete at national level US meets that fall into this category. The idea that 'US technique lagging far behind other countries' being a major contributor to our poor success is a bit off base IMO. People make this assumption because the sheer numbers OL'ers in the US is smaller and the only lifting footage of foreign countries is of their elite or national level lifters. Regardless, perfect technique isn't required to medal or even set world records at the international level. Plenty of elite lifters display subpar technique that clearly isn't holding them back that much.


The world record is 1250. But...it's not all about back squat anyway. Could Hamman even hold 250 kg overhead? You know what I mean?