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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.