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Same Routine (Part 2)
By Donny Shankle

You may ask isn’t it ridiculous to continue doing more of the same and expect a different result? Isn’t that the definition of insanity? You’re right but here is where you have to draw the distinction. It is not doing more of the same. It is improving your ability to concentrate on the same routine over a long period of time. For an athlete, this means improving your ability to meditate on a single discipline and unlocking missed subtleties within the discipline to improve your skill level. Only amateurs miss the subtleties. The amount of concentration you can apply while meditating is a direct result of the amount of long-term practice you have put in. Let me give you an example using gym etiquette and how meditating on this correlates to a heightened sense of awareness experienced only by champions.

Good gym etiquette is not only for the weightlifters who are lifting. It is more for the lifters who are not lifting during their period of rest. Even at this time training your sense of awareness is taking place. Great weightlifters are in control of their platform both in training and competition. Even outside the gym this heightened sense of awareness remains. It’s your ability to always perceive what is around you using your non-visual senses as well as insights. As you practice this enough you can prepare to react in advance to your discipline’s requirements on a daily basis. For weightlifters this means completing the lift in your mind before it physically takes place or using visualization to increase the magnitude of your strength. This type of meditation is a deeper concentration moving you towards mastery and pushing your skill level towards excellence. In other words, by always respectfully paying attention to what is going on around you in the gym, you inadvertently improve your ability to concentrate on the same routine now and in the future. This same routine of course being weightlifting. Being able to do this keeps you from wasting any time in the gym.



Q: How do I find weightlifting clubs in my area?

A: The best thing you can do is check with your governing body or organization. For example, USA Weightlifting has a great feature on their website listing all the available clubs for each state. Contact information for each club is also provided.



The Bouncing Ball
By Donny Shankle

Newton’s third law of motion tells us for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. There are two forces at work within the law called an action force and a reaction force. The bar will move once the action force you apply to the floor is greater than the weight on the bar. The resulting reaction force is then transferred into the bar from the floor and it moves. The more powerful the force the faster the bar and correspondingly the weightlifter will move. In other words, you get what you put in.

Let us say for example, I bounce a rubber ball on the floor. If I were to throw the ball down using the power of my wrist it will bounce up. Now I decide to put my elbow into it and the ball bounces higher. Next time I decide to put my shoulder into it and the ball bounces really fast up and over my head. The more joints I am using and the faster I can control the lengthening and shortening of my muscles, the greater force I will apply into the ball. The floor will return the ball with the same effort I put in. The harder I throw it the faster it will change direction and the higher it will bounce. The only thing left now is to get aggressive and release the ball at the time it will go straight down.

The physics behind the bouncing ball analogy are the same physics behind the pull in weightlifting but in the opposite direction. Instead of throwing the ball down, you are moving up with the bar. The reaction from the floor will be equal to how fast the hips, knees and ankles act. Now combine the momentum you have created going up with moving under the bar at the right time. The “Finish” or final extension of your pull is like the ball hitting the floor. The faster it is the faster you will change direction.



A Timeless Tale
By Donny Shankle

I have an insatiable interest for good stories. You don’t hear good stories much nowadays. Everything is commanded in a quick text message or email. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a Luddite, but I do appreciate hearing a good story.

Stories about the underdog, dark horses, lone wolves and heroes who set themselves against the impossible resonate with me. Some of the most enlightening stories are found in mythology such as the 12 labors of Hercules or Thor’s wrestling match against the old woman. Historical stories about Musashi the legendary ronin or Alexander the Great show us the stark parallels between strength and self-esteem. Stories at sea are another favorite of mine. Fictional stories like Moby Dick teaches us revenge is futile while Captains Courageous teaches us to do away with a reluctant spirit and never give up. In addition to being a source of entertainment and wisdom, stories provide a practical knowledge you can apply to your own training.  

Stories teach us about relevance. This lesson will become clearer as you begin to write your own stories and record your own experiences. Your training journals for example are the start to understanding relevance. Over time they show you what works and what does not work.

“Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own”.
- Bruce Lee

Removing what is irrelevant to a story keeps the story moving. Getting rid of those things which are not pertinent to your success on the platform keeps your training moving. Do not waste your time on irrelevant arguments like whether or not your arms should bend during a Clean or whether you should release your hook grip at the “Receive” of a Snatch. Concentrating too much on details like bar paths, what type of shoe is best, or devoting entire training sessions to technique are all irrelevant to the flow of your training. Get in the gym and lift weights. Adaptation is relevant. Clarity is relevant. Making personal records are relevant. Plot is relevant. Discipline is relevant. The total is relevant.

We still don’t know how much weight can be lifted. As old of a sport as weightlifting is, we still don’t know what a weightlifter’s mind is truly capable of by itself. In order to find out we have to keep lifting and searching for the good story. This is the timeless tale.


Dream Big

The Dreamer
By Donny Shankle 

All of your greatest weightlifters dream big. From the time their goals entered their conscious, they took the steps to transfer those goals into their subconscious as dreams. Either by meditating on their own or with the help of visual aids like hanging posters of their favorite lifter in their gym or bedroom. Without dreaming about becoming a champion weightlifter, you lose important hours of the day which I consider to be focused training. Even while you sleep you can train. You can think about how the bar moves with you while you are awake and dream about how you will react to the bar while you are asleep.

If your dreams are full of scenarios which do not make sense or your dreams are not tied to what you are passionate about then ignore them. They mean nothing. The only dreams which matter are those that are closely tied to you competing and becoming a champion. How do we practice beneficial dreaming and stay focused even while we sleep?

There are more hours in the day than the hours you spend training. Thereby create order in your life. Let those things which you cannot control pass. Instead fill this time with envisioning yourself walking up to the bar and lifting it. Play out scenarios like pulling the bar just before the clock runs out or go even deeper and think about feeling the heartbeats of the audience. See the cloud of chalk rise from your hands as you walk up to the platform and smell the ammonia even when it isn’t there. Remember our discussion on the difference between focus and concentration? Concentrate or meditate on all of these little details especially before falling asleep and you will at some point dream about them. This is good training.

Of course, in order to dream like this you must love being strong. Without something in your life you love deeply, your dreams will only be nightmares.



Support Structure
By Donny Shankle

Ever hear someone say, “I’d like to thank this person or that person”? These people are chosen because they are positive influences. They are good, honest, and encouraging. They are typically our closest friends and people we love. We admire them because they are genuine. We listen to them because we hold them in high esteem. They sit with us on curb sides and talk to us when we have failed. They remind us to “Finish Strong”. They are always there to cheer us on and help us any way they can. They tell us how much they want to be there when we win and how they will always be there when we lose. Champions surround themselves with this kind of support structure because within it lies strength. Nothing is owed. The relationships are not pretentious. These bonds may be short lived but the memories are etched in stone. New contests must be sought and more thanks will be given. No matter how much champions prowl through life, however, they never forget those who believed in them. When they compete they proudly bring all of that positive support. Lions after all travel in prides.



The Weight Classes For Both Genders
(Junior/Senior Level)

48 - 50/70
53 - 55/80
58 - 60/90
63 - 60/90
69 - 70/100
75 - 80/110
+75 - 90/120

56 - 100/120
62 - 110/140
69 - 120/150
77 - 130/160
85 - 140/170
94 - 150/180
105 - 160/190
+105 - 170/200

The IWF (International Weightlifting Federation) recognizes three age group categories. They are youth, junior and senior. Above are the weight classes for both the male and female juniors and seniors. Weight classes can and have periodically change to reset the records after a certain number of years. There are a total of 8 weight classes for men and 7 weight classes for women. I have also included some approximate minimum numbers for both the snatch and clean and jerk to give you an idea of what it would take to be competitive as a senior lifter. I consider medal contention at the national level and team qualification for world contests to be competitive. The minimum age to be considered a junior is up to and including 20 years. The minimum age to be considered a youth is up to and including 17 years. Here are the following weight classes for youth competitors. For boys there are 8 weight classes including 50, 56, 62, 69, 77, 84, 95 and +95kg. For girls the 7 weight classes include 44, 48, 53, 58, 63, 69 and +69kg. The minimum age to compete in all youth events is 13 years. The minimum age eligibility to compete in the Olympic games is 16 years. For all world contests (including world, junior world and university world) the minimum age to compete is 15 years. All age groups are calculated in the lifter’s birth year. Those lifters born earlier in the year have a slight advantage in competition.


Sub Ex # 85

500 Meter Row
By Donny Shankle

Coach Pendlay had me row at California Strength once for 500 meters. Since then I have incorporated it into my training on occasion. Of all the subordinate exercises, it is least tied to the lifts but it’s fun. Weightlifters should not row for long distances because of the poor posture you are in but a short burst of speed and power is fine. Challenge yourself at the end of training to a race amongst your teammates. Concentrate on using your legs and pulling fast the same way you would pull the bar. 

Reps: N/A
Advanced Way: N/A
Duration: As long as it takes to complete 500 meters.
Placement in Training: At the end as an additional exercise.

Ya Gotta Eat!

Rice Porridge

1 1/2 Cup Long Grain Rice
6 Cups Chicken Broth
4 Chopped Bacon Strips
1/2 Chopped Onion
4 Minced Garlic Cloves
1 tbsp Butter
Black Pepper

I’m always looking for easy rice dishes in the kitchen. Rice is cheap and porridge is easy to make. Here’s a simple rice porridge that was inspired by Chinese congee.

In a 2 qt saucepan over medium heat, render the bacon until it’s soft and then add onion and garlic. When onion and garlic are cooked, add the chicken broth and 2 cups of water. Bring it to a boil and then add rice. Let the rice cook for around 10 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes so it doesn’t burn at the bottom. Once the water has reduced and the rice is cooked, bring the heat down to medium-high. Let the rice continue to cook for another 30 minutes or until it has reached porridge consistency. Continue to add water as needed. At the very end, add in butter, salt and pepper to taste. This recipe serves about 4 weightlifters. Enjoy.


Sub Ex # 77

By Donny Shankle

Speed has to be trained everyday. It isn’t enough to train the muscle to be strong. You also have to train the muscle to move fast. Speed can be trained under the bar but sometimes a change of setting reinforces what you are trying to accomplish on the platform. Sprints get you out of the gym and focused more on moving fast. Around once a week before you begin lifting, go for a walk as a warm-up and include a few 15 meter sprints. This will get you thinking of moving the legs fast getting from point A to point B with a sense of urgency.

Reps: N/A
Sets: 5-10
Advanced Way: N/A
Duration: 5 minutes
Placement In Training: At the beginning of training in your warm-up.


Tips For The Split Jerk

Squat More / Squat Less
By Donny Shankle

You may be missing your Jerks because your legs are not strong. Consider how strong the legs must be to complete a C&J. First you have to use your legs to pull the weight from the floor. Then you have to stand up with the weight out of the bottom of the Clean. Now you have to relax with the bar across your shoulders and then Jerk the weight overhead. You spend years in the squat rack building the leg strength necessary to Snatch and C&J. Two exercises which take seconds to complete. When you combine all of your competitions in a year, and add up the amount of time you actually spend on the platform lifting, your performances equal to no more than probably a minute. If you are short of lockout on your Jerk or your conditioning is so poor that you do not even attempt to “Dip and Drive,” you may need to evaluate your training and spend more time in the squat rack.

Maybe your legs are strong and you can front squat significantly more weight than you can C&J. If this is the case (aside from your timing being off in the Clean) then there may be an error in your weekly standard. You could structure your training better and allow for your legs to rest in preparation for a controlled or heavy training session. If your hips and legs are so fatigued from maximal squatting you are unable to complete the Jerk after a Clean then make a change. The day before you C&J to maximum, take your squats up to a percentage you can move the weights fast or remove squats from the training all together. The sport is Snatching and Clean and Jerking. Performance should not suffer for any variation including one as important as squatting. The squats are included in training to help you lift more weight and not impede you.


Why So

By Donny Shankle

Uncle didn’t only use the word “gradually” a lot in training. He also used the word “serious”. He didn’t approve of playing games or wasting energy before training. He wanted you to be serious before training, during training, and especially competition. Of course, we still had our laughs on occasion but these moments were rare and when you were lifting it was all business.

Quite often some weightlifters or weightlifting coaches have a persona to them which is sometimes misinterpreted as elitism. It’s not elitism. This behavior comes from being serious on the platform. It comes from spending years in the gym training and can potentially carryover into social settings. It comes from weightlifting coaches who teach weightlifters to be serious when they are lifting. These lessons do not always stop when you leave the gym. I can remember spending New Years Eve with uncle and sitting on the couch drinking some champagne watching television. The cartoon Family Guy happened to be on and I laughed at one of the jokes. Uncle came over to me with a disapproving look on his face. I thought he was going to tell me something about the champagne. Instead he said, “Donny why are you watching this? Cartoons are for babies.” It wasn’t the idea of relaxing he objected to or watching a comedy. It was the idea of weightlifters he was training to be fierce competitors finding amusement in things he viewed as childish. This is not elitism, bigotry, or an old school way of thinking. His seriousness had nothing to do with culture and everything to do with weightlifting.

Think about the exercises snatching, cleaning, and jerking. Most people I came across when I first started lifting didn’t understand them and always associated them with being dangerous. This has changed the past few years as there has been an increase in participation. Still, I can see how weightlifting can be viewed this way by people who are not familiar with the sport. You are moving fast and putting yourself in low positions with heavy weights. However, this is a skill and it’s a difficult skill to master. In its difficulty and potential risk of injury lies the reason you should be serious in training. If you spend your time not focused on what you are doing then you risk getting hurt. Even when you are serious you risk being hurt. However, risk is something anyone who wants to be great at something must confront.

If you love something and want it then be serious about getting it. Every time you step on the platform and hook your hands in, flip the serious switch in your brain on. When it’s time to train then train. Seriousness is found in the person who is passionate about becoming great. The world is full of enough fools and weightlifting has no place for clowns.



By Donny Shankle

I am not going to delve into the intricacies and ambit of coaching, but briefly focus on your mannerisms and how you should interact with champion weightlifters. Manage their adaptation, sit down, when you have to give cues give one at a time, and be a source of positive instruction.

Teach your lifters to move gradually in training and to put lifts together in competition. Brio is great but keep the back slaps and yelling to a minimum. Do not stand over them arms akimbo like a drill instructor. Pull up a chair and watch. Do not give too many coaching cues at once. Say one thing and let it sink into the lifter’s mind. Watch him apply this cue to his lifts and then work on correcting something else. Talk to your lifters and let them know you expect disciplined training. Doing so will encourage them to become professionals and look at you as a source of confidence not to be disappointed. Unite weightlifters you are coaching under one setting and let them find out who is the best. This will be your greatest challenge but possibly most important. When lifters train together as a team, talk to them as a team. Demonstrate to them if one weightlifter is showing up daily and making personal records, then all are capable of the same performance. This will teach them to be aggressive and confident in their durability. Something they will certainly need to sustain the tiresome training it takes to become a champion.  

Always be a source of encouragement. The weights will beat them up enough. This does not mean you should try to kindle a fire within weightlifters you are coaching. The fire must already be there and he or she must want to train, be in the gym, and compete. Cultivate the fire already present in them. Embolden them to never be content with winning local or national competitions. Remind weightlifters you are coaching that weightlifting is a world and Olympic level sport. Communicate they can become Olympians. 



By Donny Shankle

Think of massage as maintenance. The same way a car needs maintenance on its engine to keep from breaking down, your muscles need regular maintenance likewise to keep from breaking down. As you train you will develop adhesions in the muscles which can prevent them from working properly. If I were to tie knots all along a rubber band it wouldn’t stretch completely. To get maximum stretch you need to loosen the knots and get rid of them. Your muscles will stretch and contract much better with some massage to get rid of those painful knots.

You can either perform self-myofascial (SMR) release using a foam roller or see a masseuse. A masseuse who is also a weightlifter or used to working on a weightlifters body will be your best bet. He or she knows where the adhesions are to break them up. To really get into the adhesions try combining dry needle with massage. Also, sitting in a sauna for twenty minutes before you get a massage will help your muscles to relax. The areas which typically need deep tissue work are the IT bands, rhomboids, lats, quads, and glutes. I recommend getting a massage from a masseuse once a month during your de-load week. Perform SMR daily. Especially around areas on your body which have gone through acute trauma.


Sub Ex # 69

By Donny Shankle

If you are looking for some extra exercises to include in your training to improve your mobility try using the TRX. Here are a couple exercises I sometimes do both before and after training on those days my muscles feel like cardboard. The TRX is great because you can easily adjust the difficulty of the exercises by moving your feet. You can also move into each exercise smoothly saving you on time.

Chest Press: Start with the handles at you sides close to your armpits and from here press yourself up until your arms lock.

French Press: Start with the handles over your head and your arms locked. Bend at the elbow until the handles are behind your head keeping your elbows close to your ears. Feel your lats stretch and from here press yourself back into the start position.

Low Back Stretch: With the handles in front of you, lock your arms out and drop your hips as far back as possible. Let your legs bend a little. Your body should resemble a gymnastic pike position. Feel the muscles in your back stretch a few seconds and then bring your hips through.

Reverse Fly: Start with the handles in front of you and arms locked. Open your arms up until your hands are inline with your ears. Be sure to keep your arms straight.

Row: Start with the handles in front of you and your arms locked. From here pull yourself up keeping your elbows close to your sides.

Woodchoppers: Start with the handles against your chest. Let your hips fall to one side as the handles move up and away from you. Feel your back stretch and torso twist. From here, pull the handles back to your chest.

Peaks and Valleys: Set the handles about a foot from the floor with the tops of your feet in the loops. Start with your hips down on the ground in a prone position. The arms are locked resembling a lazy push up position. This is the valley. Bring your hips up into a piked position until you resemble a peak.

REPS: 10-20
DURATION: 5 -10 minutes
PLACEMENT IN TRAINING: Done both as a warm-up and cool down


High There

Training At Altitude
By Donny Shankle

Training at altitude to gain a competitive edge is nothing new. At higher elevation air molecules are less dense. The air is thinner.  One of the ways your body compensates for this while training is to produce more red blood cells. These red blood cells carry oxygen to the muscle. Consequently, the body’s physiology has changed and the idea is to roll into competition with this change. Once you return back to sea level, and can breathe easier, your body is still used to creating more red blood cells. The muscles therefore will have more oxygen delivered to them than is typically normal and this can increase your performance. Any time I have competed at sea level after training at higher altitude I performed very well. I not only felt stronger but I also felt a burst of energy. You don’t always feel the effects of training at altitude while you are in it. Nevertheless, you always feel the difference when you return back to sea level. You can breathe easier and the feeling is even sometimes euphoric. If you are competing at higher altitude and are not acclimated to it, I advise arriving to your competition a few days early. This will help you get accustomed to the new conditions.

My experience training at altitude occurred while living in Colorado Springs.  The Olympic Training Center located there sits at over six thousand feet above sea level. Interestingly, most research I have found only talks about the effects of high altitude training on aerobic exercise. A weightlifter’s training may not be exactly aerobic, but even a single session can last many hours. There are also multiple training sessions in a day. While living on the OTC, I sometimes trained three times a day for as many as eight total hours and sometimes more in a given day. Granted the hours spent training are not continuous but you are still in the gym. Training this way is not unusual once you are at this level and the effects of this type of training stay with you. The muscles ARE using more oxygen than you may realize when you are training this many hours in a day. This includes the heart which is working harder to pump blood through the body. Still, the altitude you train at cannot be too high. If you are training at too high an altitude you risk developing nausea as well as a number of other complications. I highly doubt you will ever run into this type of problem as I do not see any weightlifting gyms in airplanes, on mountain peaks, or space stations. 

Each time I visited the OTC, I acclimatized well but remember feeling very tired by the end of the training day. The benefits of training at higher altitude do not stop in the gym. Sleep makes up a third of your day and focus in training does not stop while you are asleep. Your subconscious is still working as you dream. You may even need to see a therapist who specializes in helping you sleep better or spend money on expensive mattresses, recliners, pillows, etc. The reason I slept better at higher altitude is because my body was working harder. The cardiovascular, respiratory, nervous, and endocrine systems were all working overtime. The only way they could adapt to the increased demand training at higher altitude was to sleep longer and deeper. I personally find REM sleep is much easier to achieve at higher altitude. However, performance is better the closer you are to sea level. The more oxygen rich air keeps the red blood cells flowing through the muscles allowing you to train heavier more often. Periodically training at altitude I find to be the best choice for your body. As with anything else, don’t over do it.

On The Road

Training While Teaching
By Donny Shankle

This was supposed to be entitled Lifting On The Road but I changed the name to something I better understand. I figure if I have trouble writing something it must be because I am not versed in it. My experience with training while traveling revolves around teaching. Any training I have done while living on the road would make for a depressing segment in this book. There is no way to train well while living in your car bouncing from location to location.

I am reminded of a conversation at the kitchen table between myself and Coach Pendlay. Topic of discussion this day was what is more important: Eating well and training less? Or training well and eating less? I said eating well and training less would be better, but now I can see how that may not have been entirely true. I never had any improvements training on the road. I grew stronger when I was rooted like an old magnolia tree. Even when I was eating well (which is not the easiest thing to do on the road) I never improved if I didn’t have a place to train uninterrupted. Coach was half right where I was half wrong. The training is more important but only if it’s diligent training.

I have had the privilege of teaching as far north as Alaska, as far south as New Zealand, as remote as Guam, and as urban as Tokyo. Within teaching lies veiled happiness to your own training. If you happen to teach your own seminars one day, be prepared to lift for your audience. What’s a weightlifting seminar without seeing a weightlifter lift some big weights? Treat your seminars as control days. This will prepare you for actual competition and give you an advantage against your competitors. If you know you are scheduled to teach on a certain day then train for that day. A weightlifter’s demeanor is incomparable to any other athlete. Show that to your attendees. If I am right about this, which I am, let your lessons not only convey your expertise but also your passion.



Indian Clubs
By Donny Shankle

I first learned about Indian clubs while training at the Willpower Weightlifting Club located in Pontypool, Wales. Since then I have daily included using Indian clubs in my training. The exercises I am able to do with the clubs act as a sort of prehabilitation I do before moving into Snatching, Cleaning, and Jerking. If I do not have access to a pair of Indian clubs, I perform some of the simpler exercises you can do with the clubs by looping my gym towel through a two and a half kilo plate. The range of motion you are able to achieve with the clubs also makes them a great tool to rehabilitate the shoulder.

The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint. It is capable of moving in a much wider range of motion when compared to other joints. The strength and flexibility of a weightlifter’s shoulders should not be limited to pushing, pulling, and Jerking. Shoulder rotation is also very important and the Indian clubs allow you to gently train a three hundred and sixty degree rotation. Any weightlifter who has missed a Snatch behind can tell you the importance of having fit shoulders which healthily rotate and are flexible. Swinging a pair of light Indian clubs is the way I rehabilitated my shoulder back to strength after a dislocation. For a while I stayed away from raising my arm overhead (as the doctor ordered) in fear of accidentally dislocating my shoulder again. Once I felt comfortable doing the lifts again, I also fortunately learned a few exercises with Indian clubs which I find beneficial for weightlifters.

To start, swing one club at a time. There are variations which allow you to use two clubs but as a prehab and rehab tool swinging one club at a time is sufficient.

Swing the club forwards and backwards.
- Keeping your arm straight, bring the club up to eye level and then back down. Let the momentum stretch the front of your shoulder as the club swings past your hips.

Swing the club from side to side.
- Keeping your arm straight, bring the club up to ear level and then back down. Let the momentum stretch the side of your shoulder as it swings past your knees.

Curl the club up and let it fall behind your shoulder. - Start with the club at your side. Curl the club up past your ear and gently let it fall behind your shoulder. Feel the muscles in your back stretch as you point your elbow to the ceiling.

Swing the club 360 degrees.
- Start with the club at your side. Slowly start to swing the club up and down until you are ready to move into a complete rotation of the shoulder. Bring the club up to eye level, continue to bring it up over your head and then let the shoulder finish its rotation by moving behind you until it is back at your side. Keep the momentum going and move right into your next repetition until you are finished.

Doing these exercises everyday will keep your shoulders healthy. Using Indian clubs are fun and shoulder rotation should always be included as a part of your warm-up. Once you have learned these basic Indian club exercises go ahead and try learning the more advanced level exercises. I find these exercises force you to think and improve your gracefulness and neuromuscular coordination. Be careful not to hit yourself in the head.


Before The Sun Sets

The Fighter
By Donny Shankle

Use the days you train twice to build your aggression. Concentrate on making your lifts perfectly during your first training session and then do the same during second training but at heavier weights. The same way a fighter has a quiet but intimidating presence to him before a fight, your aura as a weightlifter is very similar. Puffed up fighters filled with a farrago of emotions only kid themselves. Fighters who step into the ring confident in their training exhibit class and are an intimidating presence.

Paint your aggression on the lifts and not on a canvas which doesn’t exist. There is no point in brushing the air with bright colors. Let the audience see your colorful fight against the bar. Let the confident fighter inside you live and then feel the strength flow through you. The great fighters evade and make fools of their opponents this way. One in fifty weightlifters fight this way and lifting this way is a product of the time spent studying, training and competing. Once you enter the ring or step on to the platform the time for passivity is through. This is not the time to recite poetry. You have to fight if you want to be the best because you are not the only one chasing that Olympic dream. You are not the only one working hard to make the one lift thousands if not millions will remember you for.

The weights will not be the only thing heavy on your shoulders. I don’t have to tell you life can be heavy. The earth, however, is still underneath you to plant your stance and fight. It will always be there and it will only be ripped out from underneath your feet if you choose to quit and lose your senses while you drift off in la la land. Fight for the personal record. Fight to improve. Gaining strength does not always come easy especially the strength required to win. Move fluid with the bar in the morning and get enraged in the afternoon. Then show the bar what kind of fighter you are before the sun sets.


Sub Ex #10

Back Raise
By Donny Shankle

If I had to choose one subordinate exercise to include in my training it would be back raises. It’s a weightlifters go-to back exercise. Back raises should be done daily to strengthen the back. Performing back raises after training not only builds muscle and develops strength, but it also flushes the lower back with blood. Nutrient rich blood speeds the healing process of muscle breakdown. A couple sets of back raises immediately after heavy lifting will help you to keep free from injury. Alternate doing high repetition on the back raise with your bodyweight and heavy sets at lower repetition with a loaded bar. 

Adjust a GHD (glute ham developer) so that the pad allows you to bend comfortably at the hip. At the start, your face should be as close as possible to the support beam in the center. Relax and take in a deep breath. Raise your back up until it is parallel with your legs and you can see what is in front of you. If you are using a bar then at the start take a Snatch grip and pull the bar up to your upper back. Proceed to perform the exercise as I already mentioned. Use assistance if needed by having someone help you get the bar into place.

The prime movers for the back raise are the erector spinae and hamstrings. The abdominal muscles stabilize you, but the GHD machine will also be stabilizing you throughout the exercise. Raise the chest during each repetition the same way way you would keep your chest up when pulling from the floor.

Sets: 3-5
Advanced Way: Place a weighted bar across your upper back. You can also attach a resistance band to the front of the GHD machine and loop the other end around your neck. Performing it this way forces you to contract even harder at the top.
Duration: 5 -10 minutes
Placement In Training: At the end every day or every other day.



No Man’s Land
By Donny Shankle

No man’s land is defined as an uninhabited place or undefined state. A place between something neither great nor bad. A state which has no up or down. It is existing without living. It is footsteps which eerily lead to nowhere. It is black space. Some weightlifters will enter the no man’s land and then soon find themselves not competing anymore. The passion felt at the beginning of their career slowly fizzles out and they either prematurely move into coaching or onto something else. Yet, other weightlifters enter this land and come out reinvigorated after honing their skills like a samurai on a Shugyosha. They have a better understanding of lifting and conversely themselves. 

I found myself in this land after recurring injuries, but used the time wisely to travel, teach, and learn even more about myself as a weightlifter and the sport of weightlifting. While in the no man’s land, I reflected on what I had been taught by my teachers. Half of this book was written in the no man’s land. My own system of training and competing was created here. Notwithstanding all the potential wisdom found here, the no man’s land can also sometimes lead to permanent unhappiness if you let it.

I’ve struggled with domestication and find it difficult to call anywhere home. However, as fun as the life of a rolling stone may be it is not for the champion. If you want to win you have to get out of the no man’s land and get rooted in somewhere. Put in consistent and uninterrupted training. Find a partner, stay away from riffraff, surround yourself with good people, and train diligently. Continue to grow and use every possible situation life brings you to make yourself stronger. You may have to cross the river Styx to do this but it’s there. Live again. Get out of the no man’s land once you have awakened inside what you needed. Apply the genius you found in yourself and lift like you love and love like you lift.



Submit Your Entry Form Early
By Donny Shankle

Competition is not the only time you will lift at your best. The prospect of competing will also bring out the best in you. Knowing a competition is right around the corner is exciting. Without something to train for then what’s the point? Submitting your entry form early will not only put you in the mindset to work hard in training, but early entry will invariably keep you from making the silly mistake of trying to submit it too late and not getting to compete at all. I have made this mistake and in 2014 was not allowed to compete at the American Open because I was two days past the entry deadline. As frustrated as I was, the problem could easily have been redressed had I submitted my entry form on time.

After Competition Do Not Rush Back Into Heavy Training

By Donny Shankle

After you have competed, gradually work back up to the heavy weights you were lifting in training. Competition is demanding especially if you have won and lifted new personal records. Allow your body to slowly get accustomed to the tonnages you were lifting in training before attacking new PR’s again. It will not take long but move gradually. Working your way back up in training is even more important if you tapered leading into competition. Doing so will avoid injury and give you the chance to learn what you can do better the next competition. Take at least a week to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses.

Strength Is The Highest Standard

By Donny Shankle

There is nothing quite as boring as watching a weightlifting competition between weak adult men and women. Even if the lift is beautiful, who cares if there is barely any weight on the bar? There is no excitement in watching a weightlifter go through the motions on competition day. The compelling bit about weightlifting is watching the weightlifter lift overhead something very few people can lift at all. Trying to watch a weightlifting competition where strength is not the measurable standard is like trying to watch swimmers swim in a pool with no water. Nobody is going anywhere and everyone ends up looking ridiculous. Supers jocularly enjoy saying the entire competition is just a warm up until they go on. In a certain light this is very true but only if they too are lifting big weights. The highest standard to achieve is strength and this is true for all weight classes, genders, and levels.



Isometric Exercise (Braking)
By Donny Shankle

An isometric exercise (or what I call braking) does not utilize a range of motion; instead, you are held in a fixed position for a determined length of time. There are two types of isometric exercises you can use in training to improve strength. They are overcoming isometrics and yielding isometrics. Overcoming isometrics is exerting force against an immovable object. Yielding isometrics would be pausing or putting the brakes on at a designated position of the lift. These exercises, especially yielding isometrics, are great for weightlifters still in the beginner to intermediate levels of training. Strength is still catching up with efficiency at this time and it is useful in the beginning to introduce these new challenges. 

I have used a few overcoming isometric exercises during periods of injury. After recovering from a fractured vertebrae in my neck, I would have someone give me resistance with a towel wrapped around my head. A training partner would try and pull my head forward and I would try and pull him back. This same idea was applied to both sides of the head as well as me trying to pull him forward to strengthen my neck. After a dislocated shoulder, one way I brought some initial strength back into my arm was to stand in a doorway with the back of my hands on each side. Here I would push out feeling the muscles work. However, overcoming isometrics do not have to be strictly limited to intermediate level lifters or periods of injury. Arthur Drechsler (author of The Weightlifting Encyclopedia) showed me a great overcoming isometric exercise. In a power rack set the pins to the exact height where you receive a Clean. Then, set another pair of pins directly beneath this height with a bar resting on them. Get underneath the bar and try to squat it up as hard as you can. Hold your back straight, stay off your toes, and push the elbows up. This exercise will help you establish a straight back and better allow you to maintain the proper alignment throughout the duration of the Clean.

The more common variation of isometric exercise I have used would be yielding. There are three main ways I have brought this exercise into play. The first and most common type is pulling to a determined height from the floor and braking it there for a minimum of two seconds. This is followed with either completing the lift or bringing the bar back down to the floor. If the weightlifter is being pulled forward to the toes for example, have him or her practice this type of isometric exercise. There are multiple heights beneficial to pull to. I like to pull to just above mid shin, to the knee and to the hip. The chest and shoulders are still in front of the bar at any point you choose to brake. This keeps the tension on the back, increasing the stress, and eventually improving strength.

I am not a fan of using pause squats as an isometric exercise but I do see their value for advanced level weightlifters. Initially all concentration must be on mastering the stretch reflex with bar oscillation. Along with having strong legs this is how you stand up with heavy Cleans. An advanced level weightlifter should be able to Clean with a stretch reflex on every attempt. Since efficiency is at a point it can no longer improve then an increase in stress to improve strength using isometric variation is fine. A pause squat is holding the bottom of a squat for a minimum of two seconds before standing. The hips, back and legs are put under tremendous stress making them stronger.

Braking on a dip during a Jerk is the other most common isometric exercise I have used. Here the weightlifter moves into the dip of a Jerk but does not always drive out of it. A drive can follow after a minimum of a two second hold or you can return the bar to the floor. A Clean + Dip (2 seconds) + Jerk would be an example isometric exercise to help get the weightlifter off their toes during a Jerk. The straighter you are able to keep your dip and drive during a Jerk the better. Another way I have used isometrics during a dip would be when I go very heavy from the blocks. A pretty significant increase in weight is used here from what you can actually Jerk. The muscles and joints are put under tremendous stress preparing them later on for much lighter weights. Add a minimum of fifteen kilos to the bar going off your best Jerk. Pick the bar up from the blocks and dip holding it for at least two seconds. Fight to keep the chest up and back straight as you are braking during the dip. After you drive up return the weights back to the blocks. This isometric exercise can be performed from the five points and from behind the neck.

On a side note be sure to incorporate any variation gradually. Beginner level weightlifters are still learning how to move and the muscles are still adapting. Even advanced level weightlifters should move into isometric exercise slowly if they are not familiar with the variation. Yielding isometrics should be slowly assimilated and negatives should be trained alongside them. The combination keeps the weightlifter engaged and strengthens the lifter’s ability to find the correct positions to brake. All isometric variation should be completely dropped the closer competition approaches. During spans of training directly preceding competition your concentration shifts to making lifts perfectly and fast. In the four month paradigm I use leading into competition some isometric exercise is used three to four months out. This variation not only strengthens the body but improves self-esteem. You can either choose to black out or toughen up and turn the spotlights on. Once you are safely using very heavy weights during braking along with completing attempts confidence soars and new personal record lifts are not far away.



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

A: First check the rotation of the bar. Your elbows may be down because the spin on your bar is no good. If the spin is good then your grip may be too wide. It is more difficult to get your elbows up with a wide grip. Try bringing your hands in a little. If the grip is fine spend some time stretching the lats and work on getting your elbows up with an empty bar. Here is a stretch you can do on your own before Cleans. 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 a quarter of the way down and let the elbows come up.

When your elbows are down on a Clean, it could also mean the “finish” lacks power. Your hips may be coming through slow. Concentrate on bringing the hips all the way through the bar at the “finish” of your pull. 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 same “finish” on the hang Clean. Working in the hang will set your back vertical so all of your concentration can be put into bringing your hips through violently and getting the elbows up.



Be A Student Of The Sport
By Donny Shankle

If I were to mention the names Lee James, Cheryl Hayworth, Leonid Taranenko, Paul Anderson, or David Rigert would you know who I am talking about? These are all great weightlifters. What kind of basketball player doesn’t know about Michael Jordan? What kind of soccer player doesn’t know about Pele? Not only did all of these weightlifters lift fantastic weights but there was also something preeminent about their character. It was amazing to watch them lift.

By being a student of the sport and studying the champions of the past, we can’t hope to emulate them nor should we. Yet by standing on their shoulders perhaps we can see farther than they did and surpass them. Maybe we can become even greater. By studying past and current champions or other subjects in general which you admire or enjoy learning about, you start to develop more of your mind. Since the mind is at the center of what lifts the bar, who’s to tell you a clever wit can’t help you become a great weightlifter? Who’s to say a sharp mind can’t help you lift more weight?

By being a student of the sport and immersing yourself in study, you begin to develop your own philosophy towards weightlifting. If your philosophy can help you put more weight on the bar, or if what you believe in can help you put in more repetitions during the day, or more tonnage during the week then this is great. By studying the performance of champions you begin to develop more of your own character. You will learn more about yourself as an athlete and person. The more you know about yourself the stronger your identity is and the better weightlifter you are going to be.


Build Upon Your Numbers

Before And After
By Donny Shankle

A lot of the weightlifting questions I get center around “How do I increase my squat numbers?” My own experience has shown me the best way to squat bigger numbers is to prioritize the exercise. Also, keep your snatch and clean and jerk numbers at a base or reasonable minimum while you push the squats to new personal record levels. Squatting before you SN and C&J with fresh legs when you have the greatest amount of energy is the best time to go after new personal records. Conditioning your legs is also important to improve strength. It’s easiest to see the weightlifters who do not have conditioned legs during competition. If they complete all of their snatches and only their opening C&J they are missing the reserve strength six for six weightlifters have. The best way to improve your conditioning is to squat after you have finished snatching and clean and jerking. A combination of squatting both before and after training the lifts is where most weightlifters should train.

Whatever your current PR squat (either front or back squat), try and squat within fifteen kilos of this after practicing the lifts. If you can do this easy then try and squat within ten kilos of your best. If you can do this then you should try to squat within five kilos of your best. Once you are squatting five kilos less than your best squat at the end of training the lifts, I would venture to say you are capable of a new personal record squat. For example if a lifter’s best front squat is 170 kilos then after training the lifts for the day he should work up to 155, 160 and 165. Duration time is kept short and you can still go after PR’s if these weights happen to be easy. Obviously if this example lifter was able to squat more than 170 at the end of training then he is capable of an even greater PR once his legs have rested. Use this before and after approach in training at least three times a week. Build upon your numbers by constantly applying maximum effort with maximum effort conditioning. As you get closer to competition, concentrate more on conditioning your squat to complete all of your lifts in competition.

Rest periods when you are going after new squat PR’s should be long enough to feel strong for each attempt. Keep all of your rep ranges low and allow your body to adapt to the heavy weight. The more tonnages you are moving during the week, the greater stress you are going through and the stronger you will become. As long as you are not losing bodyweight, eating, and resting well your squat numbers will improve. Keep in mind every Snatch and Clean you do also involves squatting thus repetition is being performed. A lot of extra repetition in one set of squatting is not needed unless the lifter is perhaps in the beginner or intermediate stage of lifting. Also, squat jerkers are applying even more repetition. It’s weekly, monthly and yearly where the repetition adds up and not daily.



Q: I get very nervous in competition. Aside from competing more, is there anything I can do to help me relax?

A: Make sure you are sitting down between your warm-ups and as you wait for your attempts. Sitting will help to put you in a meditative state of mind. Put a towel over your head to block out the excitement and listen for your coach to call you when your clock has started. Associate a certain smell with relaxation. Many weightlifters for example will put a few drops of eucalyptus oil in the bath or in the sauna. A few drops of this same oil under the nostrils in competition helps to eliminate some of your nerves. If you have prepared well in training then once you get in the warm-up room or on the platform most of your nervousness should have subsided.


Drink Water

Training In Humidity
By Donny Shankle

Climate can have a decided effect on your training if you are not acclimated to it. Training in high humidity for example can quickly zap your strength and disorient your nervous system. It’s very important in this type of climate to replenish the body’s minerals and water soluble vitamins which get lost through perspiration. Putting an effervescent vitamin and mineral tablet in your water during training is a good start. I am constantly drinking Berroca (even when it’s not humid) which is full of B and C vitamins to keep my energy levels up.

You can also adjust your training times during the day. Try to train in the cooler hours of the day if you can. I realize this is not the best option since the cooler hours may be too early in the morning for most people. There is something else you can do which I learned training during summer in the Carolinas. Pay more attention to your rest time in between exercises. When it’s really humid in the gym, train one exercise and then find somewhere cool to sit and drink water for about fifteen minutes. Then go back into the gym and train your next exercise. Repeat this process for as many exercises as you have planned for the day’s training. Your training session will end up being longer but the quality of your training will remain optimal throughout.

Lastly, do not spend an hour training one exercise. Warm-up in a cooler spot and then get to work. Even misses in this type of climate take a greater toll on you. When you are training in a really humid environment, allot yourself no more than twenty five minutes training the SN and another twenty five minutes for the CJ. You may feel like you want to train longer but don’t. As you get more acclimated to the climate you can then begin gradually extending your training times.


Keep Training

Squatting With a Shoulder Injury
By Donny Shankle

If you happen to have a shoulder injury which keeps you from Snatching and Clean and Jerking, you can still put in good training while you let yourself heal. The squat can be trained without aggravating your shoulder with the aid of a safety squat bar. The way the bar is designed will keep it from rolling off of you and there are handles in front which will help steady you. Since the kind of leg strength you will need to lift at your best is going to take you a long time to develop, it’s important to keep training the squat as often as possible. Of course, if you are still able to squat on a straight bar and it doesn’t bother your shoulder then great. However, if pulling your arms behind the bar or if the way the bar sits on you gives you pain then switch to a safety squat bar. You do not have to pull your arms behind this type of bar. You can either use your good arm to give you control while you squat or even squat hands-free. A hip belt can also be used to squat during the time you are injured. First see if you can use a safety bar comfortably before going to a hip belt because squatting on the safety bar is a variation closer to an actual squat. The back muscles are still involved to keep you upright. I have trained with some weightlifters (myself included) who have had either a shoulder or wrist injury but still put in great training on the squat. So much so that their greatest leg strength gains were developed during this period. When they returned to the lifts, personal records soon followed because of all their hard work on the squat. Champions always see the positives no matter the situation.



Taping Callouses
By Donny Shankle

With consistent training your hands can take a beating. The skin on the thumbs especially can become raw and sensitive. You may even have some breaking of blood vessels. Most weightlifters will tape their thumbs to protect the skin. You can wrap the tape over the nail and go all the way down to the base of your thumb, or you can wrap down from underneath the first knuckle. Figure out what feels comfortable to you and make sure you can still bend your thumb. Athletic tape works great but there is also an elastic tape which works really well.

You may also need to tape a torn callous on the palm of your hand right below the fingers. As your hands toughen up this becomes less of a problem.  It’s typically right below the ring finger where a callous is torn or below the middle and pinky finger. To tape over this callous and continue training, lay out a length of athletic tape 6-8 inches long and pierce a hole in the middle with a pen. Gently pull this hole apart until it’s big enough to slide your finger through. Your callous should now be covered by the tape with both ends going down to just below your wrist. Repeat this process with another piece of tape going over the first piece. Now secure the ends with a piece of tape loosely wrapping around your wrist. Taping your callouses this way keeps unnecessary tape out of the palm of your hand which can mess with your grip (this is also why you never wear gloves while you are weightlifting).

Make sure after each training session you wash the chalk off your hands to keep them from drying out. A moisturizing bar works best. Use a pumice stone to grind down any dead skin and stay away from razors. A thick lotion which is waxy or yellow in color works best to keep your hands from drying out and ripping callouses often. Before going to bed apply some Bag Balm or Badger Balm to your hands. This will protect them from tearing and help the skin grow back faster if torn.



Q: How do I keep from getting dizzy after I clean?

A: Walk outside if you can in between attempts and get some fresh air. You can also try putting some eucalyptus oil or White Flower underneath your nostrils and behind your ears when you lift. If you need something a little stronger to clear your head, try sniffing smelling salts prior to lifting. You can also try increasing your folic acid intake with supplements. After you come out of your clean and move into the transition for the jerk, try giving a little yell. This will force you to breathe. Getting the bar off your shoulders for a half second as you are standing up from the clean will get the bar off your carotid artery. Practice doing this consistently every attempt and eventually you will get great at timing it perfectly. Getting dizzy could also be a matter of conditioning or strengthening the muscles around your throat. As you continue training this dizziness should lessen.


Tips For The Split Jerk

Avoid Cues Which Could Bring You Forward
By Donny Shankle

As you practice your Jerk, obviate any cues or thoughts which could potentially bring you forward. A successful Jerk is straight. The “Dip and Drive” should be in a straight line like you are trapped in a Smith rack. You stand a better chance of staying in a straight line if you do not think about bringing your lead foot forward or stepping out in front once you “Split”. This could potentially pull you forward during the “Dip and Drive”.  Once this happens, you lose the straight line. The lead foot should be aggressive but if you reach with it too far beyond the LOB you again risk being pulled forward during the “Dip and Drive” and “Split”. Instead, always think about bringing the rear foot back or getting the back knee down. Also, as you “Split” think about putting the bar over your ears or behind the head instead of pushing your head through. By practicing this way, your “Dip and Drive” will be straight.