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Yes, That’s Really All It Takes
By Donny Shankle

I spend a lot of my time answering questions from weightlifters all over the world. Any answer I give, I look back at my own experience and knowledge shared with me by some of the greatest teachers this sport has to offer. I am amazed at times at how complicated some weightlifters make their own training. One of the things I have stressed in this book is how important it is to train in a group setting with other weightlifters who have the same goals as you. Goals like standing on top of the podium, calling yourself a champion, leaving competition with medals, and going to the Olympics. During one email exchange this lifter said,

“Donny it can’t be as easy as just go and train in a group can it?”

“Yes”, was my response. “That’s really all it takes.”

Take any weightlifter who is in a rut training on his own and change his surroundings. Put him in a group of like-minded champions and I guarantee you his numbers will improve within a week if not sooner. On top of going in search of a group to train with, you also need to keep things simple. Snatch, Clean, and Jerk as often as you can and if you need to use variation for whatever reason, do not get too far removed from the Snatch, Clean, and Jerk. Two lifters I am training with and teaching as I write this get it and are improving because of their understanding. I saw the lights go on in the eyes of one of the lifters when he told me one day,

“You don’t see the best weightlifters in training videos or on Youtube training alone do you?”

“You’re absolutely right” I said.

Perhaps not everyone is meant to be a champion. I have noticed over the years that many people are not willing to do what it takes to be a champion. Shit most of the people I have come across can’t even understand what it takes. If you want to change that then take the steps. There are so many gyms offering spinning bars and bumper plates these days that it really isn’t hard. All you need to do is buy a pair of weightlifting shoes and get there. If you want to improve bad enough, you will find a way to make it happen. The answers to lifting heavy weights are not found in any program and some of the programs lifters share with me make my jaw drop. Look at all of the old training videos of myself and other teammates at California Strength as an example. Do you ever see any of us training alone? Are our eyes glued to a binder filled in with pages of programming we pulled off the internet? No. You see a group of weightlifters training together trying to beat each other. There is no greater satisfaction for a weightlifter in training than to out lift the guy next to him. The same idea applies to competition. Handicaps are given if the group of lifters vary in weight class to make things fair. If the 77k lifter is lifting 120 kilos then for the 94k lifter to match him he better put up at least 140 kilos. Then if the 77k lifter goes above his 120k lift but the 94k can’t then he is the days strongest weightlifter. The next day everyone comes back together and lifts to maximum again. The ME can be adjusted either by the coach or team leader on days in between and consistency is practiced. The first lifter to miss his lift on this day loses. The concentration is always kept on improving and there is always a single winner or on great days multiple winners within the group. It is that easy. Yes, that’s really all it takes.

As I look back at the champion lifters I have trained with each one of them left their comfort zone or situation at that time to go and learn from the best and train with the best. There was never any obstacle in front of them which they did not overcome. A friend of mine from Montana drove an hour and a half through the snow multiple times a week to train with his coach. Another friend of mine quit his job and lived in his car with his girlfriend to get the opportunity to train with me and be a part of a group, building something special. I wrote down the address of a coach in California while I was deployed in the service and put it into my sea bag. I literally had to fight my way out of combat first in order to train with him but that was not something I was afraid of. I did what I had to do in order to be the champion I saw within myself. Maybe a military man sees the value of training in a group more. He knows you are only as strong as the man beside you. If you surround yourself with gritty and tough sons of bitches who put fear in the hearts of weaklings then you better rise up and prove how strong you can be too if you plan to survive. Within this process you either lift heavy and win or stay complacent and never improve. If you happen to have other commitments fine. Finish them and then go find a place to train. There is nothing holding you back from training in a group. Nothing.

Yes, that’s really all it takes. Of course, I have had to train alone at times but I never keep it that way. I either keep the search going or invite other lifters to come and train with me. Some come and some don’t. This is how the best weightlifters have always done it. We live together, eat together, and train together. Those who let up, leave and do something else. Those who stay and continue to add one kilo at a time improve. One of my coaches knew the importance of training together in a group so much that even at fifty plus years old he still did what he could in the gym with us. He never coached us on the platform. Any teaching took place off the platform. Once the weightlifters were together in the gym, it was time to lift and see who was the best. He would encourage us in between attempts and keep the intensity high telling us to put more on the bar. This matures you as a lifter and strengthens your spirit. In between watching us lift he would walk over to his bench press or squat stand and lift amongst us. He trained with his weightlifters and we would do anything to win and make him shake our hand at the end of the training session. This way of teaching influenced me so much that it is now at the heart of how I teach along with making new personal records every single day.

Get in a group and lift heavy weights together. That’s what uncle always had us do and whenever I am in question about what I could do better, I just remember what I learned from him. When I remember the lessons he taught, I smile and take a breath of relaxation. He wasn’t some anointed one. He knew how simple it really was to improve. He knew what weightlifters needed. All they needed was a place to train together and the will within each lifter's heart to fight. That is what gyms are for and it’s why I don’t encourage home gyms. I built my own many years ago and used it a lot but all of my best lifting was done in the gym with a group of other lifters fighting with me. There was no way in hell I would lose to anyone. I keep that mentality to this day and when I teach it’s what I aim to get across to other weightlifters. I guess not everyone is up to the challenge and I guess that means not everyone is fit to be a champion. To stay single minded, keep a positive outlook even through injury, or going to bed early when you could be out partying takes discipline on your part. The weightlifters who have this discipline combined with a hard work ethic are the champions and professionals. They understand how easy it really is to get better if you go and train in a group and keep the training heavy and simple. Yes, that’s really all it takes.



By Donny Shankle

This is not a physics book and I am not a physicist so do not expect me to go into detail about this equation. It’s Newtons second law of motion and it states Force = Mass x Acceleration. I think it’s a great equation for a weightlifter to always keep in the back of his mind. Basically, it states an objects acceleration corresponds directly to the force acting on it and the greater the acceleration the greater the force. Within the equation it also states the force produced will be greater depending on how fast the mass of an object is moving. The bigger and faster the object, the greater the force. Just think of a bull barreling its way towards you. This is not something you want to be in front of unless you want to get flattened like a cartoon character.

What this equation means for the weightlifter is get your ass big and strong and train to move fast. There is a reason why the biggest weights are lifted by the biggest weightlifters. They have the greatest amount of mass applying force against the bar. There is no need to over think this formula for your purposes on the platform. It’s just something I like to write in the corner of my daily templates and weekly standards every now and then. It keeps me focused on building plenty of strong healthy muscle and training fast. See this formula in your mind and occasionally write it out in your training logs. You will accelerate the bar faster the bigger you are. Your muscles will produce the greatest amount of force the stronger they are. The more force you produce the faster you will move. The greater your speed, the greater your chances become at completing the lift.



Attack The Bar
By Donny Shankle

As you lift, your muscles will get stronger from the stress you are putting on them. This isn’t bad stress. The stress you place on yourself in the gym is what you need to go through for the muscles to break down and build strength. Take a look at the callouses on your hands. This is an example of how the stress from grabbing the bar every day leads to your hands toughening up. Without these callouses forming, your hands would always be raw. The same thing is happening to your muscle fibers so just imagine how tough they must look. The strength of the muscle will take care of itself as you continue to increase the weight. What takes place is the main principle behind improvement called adaptation. The process is slow and at times unknowing. Each lift you make or miss, adaptation is taking place. By consistently placing stress on yourself, strength increases. Something you can always control during every lift is how you attack the bar. Your attack is never unknowing. It’s a sureness of self.

Speed must be trained every day. When you attack the bar you become mentally engaged. The more you are concentrated on the lift in front of you, the greater force you can produce. The more force you produce, the faster the bar moves. It’s called rate of force development and it’s what weightlifters train repeatedly. The Snatch, Clean, and Jerk are three fast lifts which require you to produce a great amount of force in a short amount of time. Speed is usually the attribute across many sports which will decide excellence. Because of this, the Snatch and Clean and Jerk are also used by many other different athletes to improve their own discipline.

At first, train your attack against the bar with simple exercises such as presses overhead, back squats from a paused position, and power cleans. As soon as you gain an understanding of how to move a dead weight quickly and have control, you can then start taking that force you have created and combine it with the quick change of direction and muscular elasticity needed for Snatches, Cleans, and Jerks. By attacking the bar you are commanding all of your muscles to work together to lift the weight. The mind and muscles are connected. One tells the other to go and the one that’s going will go either fast or slow depending on how aggressive the command. Weightlifting is not about the muscles. It’s about the mind telling those muscles what to do and then training those muscles to do it perfectly every single time.

To train your rate of force production, work with heavy weights you can move fast and practice consistency. A great way to train your attack against the bar is to break it up in stages by working from the hang positions. For example, when you Clean a heavy bar from above the knee you still have to pick it up from the floor. The more aggressive you pull the bar from the floor the more force you are putting into it. This force will carry over as you move to Clean it from the hang. Try it. The next time you Clean from the hang pick the bar up slow and notice the hang Clean itself will also be slow. You didn’t attack at stage one. Now pick the bar up fast and notice how this speed carries over onto stage two the hang Clean. You attacked from the floor and again from the hang. The rate of force was high for both stages of the lift and your “attack” concentration was at its peak. The relationship between your mental attack, rate of force development, and strength of the muscles are all connected.



Q: My elbows are not coming up during my Clean. Do you have any drills I could do to help me with that?

A: I would check the rotation of the bar you are using first. Your elbows may be down because the spin on your bar is no good. After that I would spend some time stretching with the bar working on getting the elbows up. Using two bars, place one bar in a squat rack at shoulder height and the other bar should be racked across your five points. Bring your elbows up and put the back of your arms on top of the other bar in the squat rack. Squat down half way and let the elbows come up. This is a great stretch you can do on your own before Cleans to prepare your “Receive” command.

When your elbows are down on a Clean, it means the “Finish” lacks power. This means your hips are coming through slow and the shoulders are still in front of the bar. Concentrate on bringing the hips all the way through the bar at the “Finish” violently. Extend your body all the way until your shoulders move slightly behind the bar. Make some noise with your feet to help you “Finish” more aggressively.

Powers are the best exercise to get you thinking about completing your “Finish”. Start Power Cleaning once or twice a week. Use the combination Power Clean + Hang Clean above the knee. This is a great combination to really get you thinking about turning your elbows over fast on the Power Clean and keeping that speed on the Hang Clean. The Hang will set your back vertical so all your concentration can be put into violent hips and elbows up.


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Ya Gotta Eat!

My Favorite Foods For Getting Stronger
By Donny Shankle


I eat a handful of dark leafy green vegetables at least everyday if possible. Spinach, kale, and collards are my favorites but spinach is the green vegetable I probably eat the most. I like it raw in a salad and even eat it straight out of the can like Popeye. It is a great source of iron which keeps your muscles oxygenated giving you energy. Even though it is already a great source of iron, I always eat it with meat because the iron in red meat is much more easily absorbed. The two foods complement each other well as a meal. Spinach also contains multiple other important minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins. The primary reason I eat leafy greens however is for the fiber. You have to keep your digestive system healthy to keep from getting sick and train well. Since weightlifters require a lot of protein in their diet, it’s a good idea to eat plenty of fiber throughout the week.


Plan Well (Pt. 4)

Responsiveness To Training
By Donny Shankle

New horizons contain new contests and competitors. Go in search of groups to train with. Go in search of groups to train with. Go in search of groups to train with. Training in a group is essential in order to become a champion and something happens when athletes get together in a group. All of them vie for attention or try and prove amongst each other who is the strongest. It is a natural occurrence among champions. Training in a group makes you dig in deep and try harder. It makes you put two kilos more on the bar when your training partner put on one. Response to the training may sometimes stop if you are always training alone. It isn’t safe to always train alone anyway. Sometimes you have to go in search of the group to train with and sometimes that group is far away. Those who show up and lift however are committed to excellence and will continue to favorably respond to the training.

There is no fancy weightlifting. Weightlifting is picking up heavy bars plain and simple. There are ways to go about doing that efficiently and I encourage you to study the science, but never lose the grit it takes to stand on top of the podium. A friend of mine likes to say, “There are many roads to get to the top”. Bullshit! Your definition of what is the top is determined by how aggressive your vision is. Some men see the top as the highest peak. Other men see much higher. While there may be a handful of ways to traverse a mountain, there is only one way to get to the moon. This takes being a little crazy, sitting on a rocket, and blasting your ass into space. There is only one road to get to the top in weightlifting. You have to be willing to confront the hard and lift the heavy. Too often weightlifters spend more time in their training lifting light weights practicing technique rather than going after personal records. Days like this are fine but should never exceed developing your confidence and coordination with weights near, at, or above your best. Weightlifting is a sport for the strongest men and women. Put the weight on the bar.

These are just a few examples of things which can slow or stop your responsiveness in training. Things like poor diet, lifting in an improper order, not getting enough rest, doing too much, lifting with a poor attitude, not training in a group, or lifting too light can all be avoided when you plan well. What’s that saying? Failure to plan is planning to fail. I am not against a certain amount of liberty in training, but I am also not a fan of training without constant improvement. Setting new personal records daily is at the front line of my training and it always has been. To keep your responsiveness in training moving forward plan it that way.


Plan Well (Pt. 3)

Responsiveness to Training
By Donny Shankle

The locus behind constant positive response in training is your attitude. Structure is held together with discipline, passion and foresight but, without a positive attitude you lose the fearless virility found first in youth. If you really want to be a champion you have to think like one. A positive and courageous attitude will show you training is never mundane. There are always personal records to be found and other champions to compete with. Every training session becomes a competition and every platform you lift on becomes a platform to put on a show. There is no room for the craven in weightlifting. It takes courage and confidence to go underneath a heavy bar multiple times a day.

Sure there will be lows. Do not be surprised or ashamed when your positive attitude looks like it has left you. It hasn’t. You will always possess it. Just as you must fight for every PR, you must fight to maintain a positive attitude. This is simply another part of training. I’ve covered myself with tears a few times but I always wiped them off and grabbed the bar again. It amazes me how some weightlifters never get out of their lows. You are human and humans have displayed quite thoroughly throughout history they are fallible. Who gives a shit? Stay positive. The lowest you may ever feel will soon turn into a lofty high but you have to keep attacking the bar. To think like this you have to be an individual and steer clear from hidebound fools. Also, do not care what your competition is doing. You can’t control them. All you have control over is how mentally tough you will be when you wake up in the morning.

I remember a training session where a 167k SN came crashing down on the back of my head and upper back. For a second, I was out cold. The bar knocked my ass out. If it wasn’t for my positive attitude, I would probably have never attempted that weight again. Sometimes a positive attitude can look like defiant stubbornness. That’s OK. Does it keep you in the gym? Does it keep you competing? Does it get you back up when the bar has knocked you down? Be afraid of no man, bar, or horizon. If any one of these ever causes you to doubt your ability there is only one thing left to do. Attack it! ATTACK THE BAR!


Plan Well (Pt. 2)

Responsiveness To Training
By Donny Shankle

Sleep is obviously very important. You will spend nearly a third of your life asleep for good reason. Without proper rest, your muscles will not grow and your coordination will be poor. These are just a couple examples of the negative side effects. Whenever my sleep schedule is interrupted, I feel it immediately in the gym and my response to training ceases. On the other hand when I am sleeping great especially between the hours of 2200 and 0400, my strength in the gym surges. It’s in periods of rest that the muscle and nerve cells recover. Adaptation and response to stress cannot take place unless you have the self discipline to meet an early bed time. It is for this reason a repetitive night life should be avoided by the weightlifter.

Keep the room you sleep in cool and clean. There should be no bright colors and no television in the room. Especially when in training, it should be thought of as a quiet place. Reading is fine but if you read in your bed do not do so on your back with your head propped up on a pillow. This will cause strain on the neck and you will feel it the next day you lift. I enjoy reading in bed but have learned to do so on it on my belly propped up on my elbows putting myself in a chest up position which is beneficial to lifting. If you are a side sleeper, do not sleep on your shoulder without any support underneath it because this too will cause strain on the shoulder too. The best way for the weightlifter to sleep would be on his back with something under the knees to remove strain in the lower back. Since we spend so much of our lives sleeping, pay attention to the positions you sleep in. You may be feeling a chronic ache or pain not because of improper lifting form but because of weird sleeping positions. Warm milk, a melatonin supplement, and magnesium baths are aids I have used in the past to help me sleep. The best way I have found however is to be self disciplined and adhere to a schedule.

Continuous response to training requires stricter specificity as your level of development increases. If you are in the gym doing numerous physique shaping exercises because you are trying to look great in front of the mirror then this is energy you are wasting. Don’t worry about doing extra exercises to look good. Snatches, Cleans, Jerks, Squats, Pulls, and Presses are enough exercises to give you a great looking ass and masculine shoulders. Focus on performance and lifting more weight. As Bill Starr says, “They don’t award style points in weightlifting”, and you will not get three white lights just because you have washboard abs. The muscles will take aesthetic shape as you place heavy stress on them with these weightlifting exercises alone. Any energy expended towards any other exercises is energy you could be putting towards the competitive lifts. Move away from the idea of lifting to look great and start lifting to be great. The former is a happy byproduct.

The muscle does not need to grow in huge dimensions and be shredded in order to be strong. Hypertrophy (muscle growth) and muscle strength are two different animals. Each requires the muscles to be put under stress but strengthening a muscle involves greater nervous system conditioning to activate more muscle fibers. A strong muscle is a coordinated muscle. The greater your coordination the more muscle fibers you can call on. It is for this reason so many hours are devoted to the same exercises. Limit your training to Snatching, Cleaning, and Jerking especially the closer you approach competition. Since training should never stop, certain Subordinate Exercises can be implemented to maintain conditioning and mental sharpness when injuries may happen to occur. Notice, however, all lower class SUB EX’s are done for no more than five to ten minutes to improve performance and keep you engaged by breaking monotony.

ME conditioning (strength endurance) could be down or the climate may be taking its toll on you. When you are not responding to the training in these cases, it may be because you need to take more rest in-between your exercises. This does not mean you have to rest a complete hour or two. Taking extra rest in one given training session can mean twenty to thirty minutes between your Snatches and Cleans and Jerks and Squats. A little reminder from a Weightlifting Legend and Strongman is worth paying attention to here.

“Remember the fable of the tortoise and the hare and be content to go slowly”. - Arthur Saxon

Don’t train weary. Why would you? As you rest more, the training session will last longer but be of greater quality. Too often people refer to over training when the weightlifter just needed to eat and rest for longer intervals in-between exercises. If you are a professional weightlifter and have the luxury of training all day then divide your training with longer rest periods. Change your training too if your climate changes. Here is an example of a Daily Split I have used in High Humidity.


AM (0900)
2 exercises

PM (1400)
2 exercises

PM 2 (1800)
1 exercise

The training here is divided up into sessions I can complete quickly. The humidity after that time significantly depletes my strength. There is no point in training if you are feeling very weak. It’s better to rest, eat, and try and get some place cool. Come back later when your strength returns. These longer rest periods like I said are great if you have the luxury but you can also have shorter rest periods and still train optimally. Here is another example of training with a little over two hours in the gym.


Exercise 1 (25 minutes)
(rest 20 minutes)
Exercise 2 (30 minutes)
(rest 15 minutes)
Exercise 3 (20 minutes)
(rest 10 minutes)
Exercise 4 (10 minutes)

Split up your effort in the gym. Do less exercises and take advantage of longer rest times. If you are not responding to the training it may be because you are doing too many other exercises not relevant to improving strength and coordination at the SN and CJ. Your choice in the number of exercises you are doing at one time could also be depleting your energies. Divide your effort with more rest. This way you will have the same energy at the end of training as you did in the beginning. Weightlifters who do not do this tend to have lower Clean and Jerks compared to their Snatches. Like the hare you could be moving at an all out sprint but this doesn’t matter if your energy leaves you before the race is over. Pay attention to other factors like age. An older lifter can still respond in training. He may only be able to do one exercise a day but this is OK. Adaptation will be slower but he will still respond to the training and improve. Adjusting your training to your conditions is often times necessary and unavoidable.