Ask Greg: Issue 96
Greg Everett

John Asks: I am a 58 year-old male and have been power lifting for several years. I have been researching Olympic style lifts lately in terms of the benefits (mainly bone density) for mature lifters such as myself. I was wondering if Olympic lifts could be incorporated into a powerlifting program without threat of overtraining and/or injury? I would appreciate any suggestions you have and thank you in advance.

Greg Says
: Powerlifting will provide much of the bone density benefits already—largely it’s a response to mechanical loading on the bones, both from literally supporting loads but also from muscular tension on the bones occurring during muscular contraction. Arguably you’ll get more of the latter with powerlifting than weightlifting due to more eccentric loading and more time under tension overall. The impact of weightlifting may add some more stimulus, however. At the very least, weightlifting can be added into your routine for some variety and fun.

Regarding injury, your primary focus should be ensuring adequate mobility for whatever lifts you intend to incorporate. As long as you’re sufficiently mobile and progress wisely, there is little chance of injury. Avoiding overtraining shouldn’t be too difficult as long as you ease into the weightlifting. I don’t know how much and how frequently you’re currently training, but adding 1-3 lifts on 1-3 days/week and starting with light weights should be fine. As you improve and are able to load these more, you can decrease the number of exercises and/or replace some of your powerlifting accessory work to create space for weightlifting work.

Lauren Asks: I am new to crossfit, within the last six months, but I have been Olympic lifting for about six years. I finally qualified for the American Open this year… I had just started crossfitting two days a week when I hit my qualifying total as a 63 kg lifter. I am constantly looking for new challenges, which is partly why I fell in love with crossfit. I have started coaching, and as a result, feel the need to get up to speed with many aspects of crossfit. But I am afraid my lifting has hit a plateau due to crossfit workouts in the morning and Olympic lifting in the afternoon. I need to find a balance, and I would love your thoughts on whether you think I need to stop crossfit workouts all together, or if there is a balance. I appreciate all of the literature that you all share and I look forward to learning more!

Greg Says: I don’t think you need to stop CrossFit entirely to lift at the American Open level and possibly even the National Championship level. What I would say is that the more you want to excel at weightlifting, the more you need to reduce the CrossFit. There are a number of potential problems, but some of them can be avoided or at least mitigated with intelligent programming. The most basic one is simply that to excel at a specialized activity, you need to specialize in your training. If you want to be as good as you can be at snatching and clean & jerking, you can’t be spending time doing activity that doesn’t directly support that goal.

Injury is another potential issue, but if you’re smart about how you’re doing CrossFit—that is, avoiding the novelty exercises and relying on better choices, not overdoing the volume, not doing exercises you’re not prepared to do properly, etc.—you should be able to avoid that.

Something else I would suggest is not performing the barbell Olympic lifts in conditioning workouts. It’s a great way to regress in your technical proficiency by practicing a large volume of reps poorly. There are plenty of other exercises you can use that won’t interfere with your lifting.

Finally, you don’t need to be an expert CrossFit athlete to be a good CrossFit coach. It’s important to have a basic experience with it, which you apparently already do, but beyond that, a coach improves his or her coaching through coaching experience. Much of the experience you need athletically involves understand how certain exercises are best performed and understanding the feeling and how to communicate that. That can be accomplished by practicing those exercises in isolation—there’s no need to perform them within actual CrossFit workouts.

Ultimately you need to decide what your priorities are and train accordingly.

Khoi Asks: Hey guys, I have a question that has been bothering me for a while. What exactly makes a good coach? Should an athlete ALWAYS put trust in the coach? I recently was unsatisfied with my coach because I believe he wasn't pushing us hard enough. He coaches good technique, but his lifters never seem to become very strong. Because of this reason, I rebelled against him and left in search for another coach. I thought I was happy there. But there were certain things I didn't agree with him concerning technique. While he may not coach good technique, his lifters ARE STRONG. And here I am thinking... who should I listen to?

At one point, I read up about John Broz, and attempted to do what his lifters do. Lift your max as often as possible. But because of this, I absolutely got consumed by weightlifting. It started to harm other areas of my life. Then I read that Tommy Kono advises lifters to only train 3-4 times a week, no more than 90 minutes per session. What is a lifter to do? I made some awful mistakes in the past, and I'm hoping some of your advice can help me avoid any future mishaps. Thanks for reading!

Greg Says
: This is a really big question and I probably won’t do it justice here, but I’ll try to at least give you some basic advice. First, what makes a good coach is certainly not a simple answer. Regarding weightlifting specifically, a coach needs to understand technique and be able to teach and refine it; needs to have a good grasp of program design and also how to individualize for his lifters; needs to be able to communicate well with his lifters in all respects, from issues of technique learning to training response to personal issues that affect training; needs to be competent with competition coaching; and needs to be reliable, respectable and trustworthy. Some coaches are very good at one or more of these things but not others; the best coaches in the world are good at all of them and continually getting better.

Strength is an interesting point here. Everyone can get stronger, but the reality is that certain athletes gain strength much faster than others and some are naturally much stronger already than others. Much of a coach’s success in weightlifting, as in any sport, is reliant on recruiting and dumb luck—as the saying goes, you can’t make a racehorse out of a jackass. In other words, you may be the greatest coach in the world, but if you don’t have athletes with adequate potential to be good weightlifters, you will never create good weightlifters. Consider that with the original coach—was he working with athletes who should have been able to get as strong as you expected? Or was he doing the best he could with what he had to work with?

Another coach who seems to get his lifters very strong may just be the product of the opposite circumstances—that is, he just has been lucky and strong athletes have come to him. Of course, this is not necessarily the case for either of these coaches—one could genuinely not know how to get people strong and the other may be very good at it.

Who you should listen to is the coach who gets YOU the best results. It doesn’t matter if his other lifters are good if you don’t get any better, and it doesn’t matter if his other lifters are weak if you’re getting really good. Unfortunately, knowing who this is takes time and commitment to his program, which takes trust. And that brings up another point, which is that no matter how good of a coach you may be, if an athlete is not 100% on board, he will not progress the way he could and should. As a coach, you can’t persuade a lifter to trust you—they either do or they don’t. All you can do is coach and let your results speak for themselves. Unfortunately for some coaches, as I mentioned above, circumstances may prevent those results from being what they could be. But you as an athlete have to commit completely to a coach and his program if you want to know how it works for you.

Regarding Kono and Broz and any other coach or training philosophy, no one is right or wrong. If it were that simple, we’d all be snatching 200 kg. Infrequent training works very well for some people, and training to max multiple times daily works for some people, although in both cases, those extremes work for very few individuals. A good coach knows how to adjust for each person while still sticking with his basic philosophy.

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