USA Weightlifting L1 Coaching Course Reflections

By: Lukas Hernandez

A few months back I attended the USA Weightlifting Level 1 coaching certification. The lead instructor for our certification was John Filippini. John is a very knowledgeable instructor and also the Potomac Valley LWC President, which means he is an integral figure in the DMV Weightlifting scene.
While at the USAW course I was introduced to progressions on how to teach a beginner the barbell snatch and clean and jerk. It was interesting how we were split into groups, allowing us to teach one another. In one weekend I was able to work hands on with over 30 athletes. In the groups I was taught how to fix the front/back squat, pulling, and overhead pushing mechanics. Before teaching any athlete these movements, I was taught there first needs to be an assessment of overhead and squat mobility, which are essential keys to success in the sport of Weightlifting.
The USAW has particular progressions to help a beginner learn the snatch and clean and jerk. The USAW snatch progression breakdown is great for beginners because it starts with getting comfortable with the bar overhead first and understanding the shrug/third pull (pulling under the bar until it is received overhead). This progression also helps the beginner how to keep the bar close. As the athlete gets more comfortable with hip and hang power positions, they are then ready to go full from the floor. For the clean & jerk they taught us to break it up into two movements: clean, then jerk. For the clean progressions it is similar to the snatch because it gets you comfortable in the final position and the pull. The jerk progression is a bit different; the athlete is taught a push press, followed by a push jerk, then the footwork for a split jerk. It is important to do these footwork drills prior to doing it with a barbell.
Technique progressions aside, after attending this course I now feel much more confident in my ability to teach athletes the proper progressions to learn the snatch and clean & jerk. With this new certification under my belt I will be working with the new athletes that come to attend barbell club on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If you see me around the gym and have any questions about technique, or what I ate for lunch, feel free to ask!

Improving Technique

By: Marcos Hernandez

Improving technique is something that will be done over the rest of your lifting career. As soon as heavy weights get loaded on and you approach your 1RM, technique begins to break down. Attacking the area of breakdown can lead to long term, consistent gains. The logic being that if you always attack your weak points, you can only get better.
One thing that can begin the chase of improved technique is attacking one thing every time we warm up. Write down or remember what it was the limited your performance the last time you did this particular lift. During your warm-up sets of that lift, really focus on addressing the issue that was your limiting factor. Hopefully, once the weight begins to get heavy the issue you were addressing during warm-ups will have gone away. The new issue (or recurring one) will be what you focus on the next time you warm-up. If you systematically lift this way, your weak points can continually become your strong points. Watch your success begin to snowball!

Prepare in Advance

One of the primary constraints we face as coaches is scarcity of time. We have a seemingly endless list of things we want to integrate into classes: movements and skills to practice and re-learn, mobility drills to try out, strength and accessory work to perform, conditioning to do, as well as dedicated core work, carries, and the list goes on. Did I mention we need to get all this done within a 1 hour timeframe?
Simply put, there isn’t nearly enough time to get it all done. However, we try to prioritize our training sessions to get as much done as possible given our limited time parameters. Here’s where your role as an athlete comes into play.
We NEED you to be more proactive as an athlete in your preparation and planning before, during, and after the WOD. Specifically, I want to talk about our expectations during class. First- get to the gym on time, dressed, and ready to train. If you are late (these things happen), get your butt in gear. This means no foam rolling- that’s what arriving early is for. Second, PAY ATTENTION when your coach is giving you the pre-WOD briefing. Now is the time to ask questions and start determining a) L1 or L2 b) what are my gear requirements? c) how much weight should I use? d) anything pertinent information my coach needs to know prior to the WOD starting?
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but the main thing we want you to start doing is being more proactive once you’ve finished your strength work during class. If we are doing a kb swing / double under / rowing workout, DO get out your ‘bell, rope, and start dropping down rowers (if reasonable) without being told to do so. We can always tell you to switch weights if you were a bit overzealous, but we’ll appreciate the initiative. If you find yourself standing around at any point with nothing to do, you aren’t being proactive.
Over time, our hope for you as an athlete is growth and better self-sufficiency. We’ve got a lot of athletes needs to attend to, logistics to deal with, and a host of other concerns. Help simplify these issues by making sure you personally are squared away and ready to go when it’s time for the 3,2,1, GO! command. Today’s workout is a great test of this request- if we are proactive and take initiative, we’ll have ample time; if we aren’t, somethings probably got to give from a programming standpoint. Take charge!

Indicators of a Quality Training Session

There are many misconceptions in the fitness industry surrounding what does and does not constitute a good workout. This is by no means intended to be a definitive guide on the subject, rather a few key tenets we ascribe to here at CFSS.
Quality Training Sessions DO:
• Make you better at useful, measurable things, not simply better at suffering
• Such as your: strength levels, cardiovascular endurance, mobility, movement efficiency/proficiency, etc.
• Mesh well with your other athletic pursuits, and help improve, not hinder, your athletic performance
• Chase performance improvements, not “the burn” / total exhaustion / unnecessary fatigue
• Take into account your goals, abilities, and your lifestyle factors that can alter your readiness to train
Quality Training Sessions DO NOT:
• Regularly affect your gait the following day(s); if they do, your program is probably unsustainable
• Make you weaker / less mobile / less resilient or prone to injury
• Regularly cause you stress or anxiety before you perform them
In short, quality training sessions serve a larger purpose, even if that purpose is getting fitter for “life” and not an athletic conquest. Anyone can construct a workout to induce muscle soreness and exhaustion (AMRAP 25 minutes: max burpees), but it is much harder to actually help people reach their goals while also keeping them healthy.

Thinking Ahead


By: Marcos Hernandez

Try and be proactive with your mobility. Plan ahead and take your lifestyle into account when coming in to train. If you sit all day, don’t think that you can squat without extra mobility/warm up sets. For that matter, don’t think you can deadlift or press without extra mobility/warm up sets. Sitting wreaks havoc on your posture, affecting both your hips and shoulders, both of which we use every day.
Maybe you are at your desk working at the computer all day. Do you think it will be easy to get the bar in a strong, stable front rack position without extra warm ups? For wrists, I prefer extra mobilization before warmups. This includes wrist circles and getting the knots out of my triceps, near the elbow, using a bar on a rack. Just ask and we can show you.
Depending on the shoes you are wearing (heels, anyone?), ankles can need extra mobilization even if you are standing all day. Try pushing the ankle to end range during a goblet squat or placing the kettlebell on top of your knee to get some extra range of motion. This move can also help your front squat.
Consider the daily demands of your occupation and lifestyle, as well as your personal limiting factors from a mobility standpoint to make a more focused effort to actively attack your mobility/flexibility limitations both during the day and immediately prior to getting into the WOD.

The Vegan Diet for Athletes?

I came across the following article on NFL players going vegan several months ago (Going Vegan in the NFL) and it got me thinking about the dangers of ordinary folks taking the advice of the genetically superior/physical outlier population.
Here’s a dose of reality- those gifted few who are meant to be in the NFL due to their sheer physical size, speed, power, and athletic gifts. This is not meant to marginalize their work ethic, effort, and years of struggle to reach the top tier of their sport. However, it is unlikely that they had to rely heavily on optimal nutrition, training, and recovery programs to get where they are. As long as they trained in the off-season, whether intelligently or not, they probably continued to get bigger, faster, fitter, and stronger.
I bring this up because most individuals do not fully understand the inherited physical prowess possessed by most Divison-1/professional athletes. Many skills and techniques can be honed through good coaching and practice, but we all have metaphorical ceilings on our athletic abilities. You cannot “train” being 6’5” and 265 lbs, with quick feet and good instincts. Some people are destined to play power forward and some people make great accountants, and there is no amount of effort that can be applied to change that.
My point is bringing this up is that athletes often succeed in spite of their diets and training routines. I cannot think of a more foolish diet for a collision sport athlete (or any human for that matter) than veganism / vegetarianism. Animal flesh provides the essential building blocks for muscle tissue repair, as well as your bones, skin, hair, arteries, veins and a host of other important bodily functions (check this must-read meat article). It is also calorically dense and satiating, which is a crucial attribute for athletes of the size and stature of football players, where body mass matters in a major way.
One does not grow to be a lean 250+ lb human on salads, beans, and quinoa. Are some athletes able to get away with incomplete, malnourishing diets? Sure. Should we emulate genetic freaks and expect similar outcomes? Absolutely not. Get your nutritional advice from the sports/performance nutrition experts, not the world champion athlete who plays by a unique set of rules.


By: Marcos Hernandez

Why are certain lifts so hard for people? A simple concept to some can be complex to others.
For example: The coach tells you to arch your back on a deadlift. It feels like you are arching it every time, but the cues keep coming. The coach tries a different one, “Chest up!” You think you get it but the next time the same cues come out again. It might feel like you as an athlete aren’t understanding what the coach is talking about.
In reality, it’s the coach who isn’t understanding. They aren’t understanding how to effectively communicate a concept to you as an athlete. Maybe your particular way of thinking is something the coach has never encountered, or a particular cue isn’t having the desired corrective effect with you that day.
If the same issues come up again and again, help out your coaches by taking sometime to understand the concepts yourself. Research outside of the gym. Read up on it, ask other lifters; take control of your own future by investing in yourself.

Go Faster.

By: Marcos Hernandez

Intensity may be lacking if you have been training Crossfit for a while and are stagnant. Of course in the beginning it is very important to take your time and make sure all movements are performed properly. This makes sure you are staying injury free and building correct movement patterns.
After some time there should be a point where you turn off and go. The movements are clean. So when the buzzer beeps, go all out. The coach will be around to make sure your movement doesn’t become dangerous or cause injury. But let the professionals decide when that is.
Try and increase the intensity just once a week to start. Make sure the movements are something you are comfortable with or choose a lighter weight. Going faster could be just the thing your training needs.

One Mission at a Time

Focus on one target, one mission, one goal at a time. Can you tackle multiple training, health, fat loss goals concurrently? Sure. Will you optimize your results/progress in any of these areas using this multi-tasking approach? Doubtful.
For example: Steve wants to put 30 lbs on his squat, train for a marathon, and get shredded for beach season all in the same 6 week timeframe.
Each one of these goals individually are perfectly acceptable pursuits. However, unless you are a CrossFit Games caliber athlete, I highly doubt all can be pursued simultaneously. All goals are constrained by the principle of scarcity; that of time, resources, recovery capacity, adaptation potential, etc., etc.
Instead of inundating your body with stressors, many of which are likely conflicting, put your effort into achieving one goal. If you want to get stronger, don’t cut into your finite energy and recovery stores going running 4x week or performing random bouts of conditioning that don’t directly relate to your training goals. If you want to lean out, keep a detailed food log, get 8 hrs of sleep nightly, lift some weights, and keep conditioning brief and intense.
Remember not to confuse activity with accomplishment. Avoid expending valuable effort on things that produce little or no positive return on effort. Allow yourself to be successful on one mission before undertaking your next endeavor.

Trust Your Coach

By: Marcos Hernandez

Often times as athletes we feel like we know better than our coaches in regards to our lifts, our WODS, etc. I promise it isn’t a referendum on you or your abilities if your coach decides to hold you back a bit. Coaches may see something that would prevent you from succeeding at a heavier weight or more challenging exercise. Think of a coach as an impartial, objective observer who is looking out for your best interest, even if you sometimes aren’t. Often, we as athletes need saving from ourselves.
In weightlifting, taking multiple attempts at lower weights can help dial in technique and increase speed. The answer is not always more weight, more difficulty, more intensity, and pushing things to the threshold of failure.
In CrossFit, scaling back to L1 instead of L2 can often times lead to a better workout. Maybe those L2 movements would be slow. So maybe, by doing single unders instead of double unders, the athlete could get a better conditioning effect. L1 typically features less technical movements, but is not inherently an easier workout. Remember, you always control the intensity with which you push yourself.
The point is, coaches see the big picture and only have the best interests of the athlete in mind. Remember, we want you to succeed as much if not more than you do. Trust us: we won’t let you down.