Q & A with the Coaches of Composure Weightlifting


This Coaches Corner features Ben O'Connor and Spencer Gerke of Composure Weightlifting in Boise, Idaho

Describe your history in weightlifting. How long have you been coaching? Do you also participate as an athlete?

Ben O'Connor:  I was first taught the lifts back at the end of 2009 when I joined Flatirons CrossFit in Boulder, Colorado.  When I decided to become a coach in early 2011 I went through a 90 hour apprenticeship under my two coaches at the time which was heavily geared towards the snatch and the clean and jerk.  As an athlete, I have competed in 4 weightlifting meets.  I competed in two state level competitions in Colorado in 2011 and 2012 and competed in two state level meets in Idaho in 2014.  I have been coaching the lifts as a CrossFit coach since 2011 and received my USAW Level 1 Sport Performance certification earlier this year.  I am proud to coach for Composure Weightlifting which is housed at CrossFit Composure.

Spencer Gerke:  I have been lifting weights since I was 13. I started Olympic Weightlifting when I was in high school. I started to get serious about the Olympic lifts while playing college football, and I then refined my technique as I got into CrossFit after college. I have been coaching CrossFit and Weightlifting for about a year now and I recently received my USAW Level 1 cert.

What do you enjoy most about coaching?

Ben O'Connor:  I love to help people figure out the intricacies of weightlifting.  When people first learn the lifts everything seems foreign and confusing to them and I really enjoy helping people achieve breakthroughs in their technique.  When these technical breakthroughs result in personal records that is even more rewarding. At Composure Weightlifting our programming is focused on exercises and loading that promote technique development.  We program exercises that reinforce proper positioning and timing and emphasize proficiency before intensity.

Spencer Gerke:  The most joy comes from athletes achieving their goals. Athletes having breakthroughs is just as exciting: perfect positioning, conceptualizing how a lift should look, and breaking bad habits. Our programming focuses on form first. Perfect practice makes perfect and we like to ensure that every lift will look the same, either with an empty barbell or 300 pounds.

CrossFit Composure is an amazing place to learn the lifts. Form is the second most important part of Composure Weightlifting, the most important is having fun.
— Spencer Gerke

How many athletes do you train? What’s your weekly routine with them?

Ben O'Connor:  Currently at Composure Weightlifting we run two classes per week: Fridays at 7:15 pm and Sundays at 9 am.  We work on variations of the snatch and clean and jerk both days and we also train various accessory exercises depending on the day.  All of our training sessions begin with a thorough and technique oriented warm-up. Our classes can range in size from 3-15 athletes.


Spencer Gerke:  We train all athletes at CrossFit Composure in the 2 lifts, we teach the CrossFit athletes the same way that we teach the weightlifting athletes. Composure Weightlifting operates 2 days per week on Friday and Sunday. We focus on technique in the main lifts, and each day has different accessory exercises. Our dedicated weightlifting class consistently has between 10-15 athletes with new drop-ins every week. Coach Ben O’Connor also trains a few additional athletes throughout the week.

What’s your favorite city and/or country that you’ve traveled to for competition?

Ben O'Connor:  I really enjoyed traveling to Colorado Springs for my first two Weightlifting meets because they were held at the Olympic Training Center.

Spencer Gerke:  I have not traveled for competition, but I was able to lift with the athletes at CrossFit B’Bros in Budapest. That was a blast! I think that Boise has an awesome weightlifting community and I have attended many meets here.


How would you describe your coaching style? How do you approach the task of motivating others?

Ben O'Connor:  I would describe my coaching style as extremely positive and detail-oriented.  At Composure Weightlifting we always have two coaches working with the athletes during training sessions.  This allows us to make more corrections in a class which meshes really well with how detail-oriented my coaching style is.  Negativity is not productive and has no place at Composure Weightlifting.  We make people better by building them up and caring about their success more than our own and we have a lot of fun while we do it.


Spencer Gerke:  Patience is huge. I’ve seen a lot of coaches get frustrated with athletes for making the same mistakes over and over again. You cannot become frustrated. You need to understand that this may be the first time that a person is getting out of their comfort zone, and you need to have patience and celebrate any progress (no matter how small) in order to make weightlifting enjoyable. Motivation is tricky, but needs to be positive no matter what. Every athlete is different, some need to be yelled at for their motivation, and others need to be talked to calmly. Get to know your athletes.

What are your plans and goals for your life in weightlifting? How do you see your future in the sport? Do you plan to stay involved in weightlifting for many years?

Ben O'Connor:  I plan on coaching with Composure Weightlifting for many years.  I want to continue to grow our program so that it can positively influence more people in the community.

Spencer Gerke:  My main approach now is to help others improve their lifts. We have plenty of potential at Composure for competitors and I am hoping that we send a few athletes to compete this summer. I will remain in weightlifting for as long as I can.

Who are some of your major influences? Who are the people you want to thank?

Ben O'Connor:  I want to thank my parents Tim and Elizabeth O’Connor and my wife Marena O’Connor for always supporting me in what I do.  I want to thank my first weightlifting coaches Randy Hauer and Tim Retzik for teaching me the lifts. I also want to thank the owners of CrossFit Composure: Bobby Marturello, Ross Armstrong, Tristan Sluder, and Spencer Gerke for having the vision to create such a great gym where a club like Composure Weightlifting can exist and be so beneficial. It is a truly special place where it seems anything is possible.

Spencer Gerke:  There have been a few influencers in my short journey, but 2 people stick out. Tim Socha is the strength and conditioning coach for the University of Washington football team, and he was my coach at Boise State. I would not have gotten interested in weightlifting without Tim’s 6 years of coaching. Also fellow Composure coach Ben O’Connor was my first dedicated oly coach. He taught me everything I know about weightlifting.

Composure Weightlifting is an extremely motivating place to learn and train weightlifting. If anyone is nervous or apprehensive about learning the lifts I would urge them to come in once and see if we can show them how wonderful weightlifting can really be.
— Ben O'Connor

What advice would you give to athletes that are interested in trying out weightlifting?


Ben O'Connor:  I would tell anyone who is interested in trying out weightlifting to find a knowledgeable coach who can help them along their journey.

Spencer Gerke:  Consistency is key. Come day after day ready to learn, put your ego aside, and have fun!

What do you see as some of the major benefits of weightlifting?

Ben O'Connor:  The lifts are very versatile in that they not only improve strength but also improve speed, power, flexibility, accuracy, coordination, balance, overall work capacity, and mental toughness.  They also have the unique ability to teach an athlete to not only effectively exert force on an external object but also to receive external force safely.

Spencer Gerke:  Weightlifting improves strength, speed, power, and helps many people with confidence. You will not get bulky, but you will get faster and stronger. Weightlifting, especially for women, is empowering. Holding over 100 pounds over your head is a huge confidence booster. If you can master something as complicated as the snatch, then you will be able to tackle any of life’s crazy obstacles.

Did you ever participate in or coach any other sports?

Ben O'Connor:  I played soccer from age 4-17.

Spencer Gerke:  I played offensive line at Boise State from 2008 to 2013. I also coached the offensive line at College of Idaho.



Q & A with Coach Darren Hansen

  Click above to find out more about Hansen Athletics.  

  Click above to find out more about Hansen Athletics.  



This Coaches Corner features USAW National Coach Darren Hansen of Hansen BBC in Pocatello, Idaho.  




Describe your history in weightlifting. How long have you been coaching? Do you also participate as an athlete?


I have been coaching Weightlifting for the past 5 years. I began while in college due to the unique opportunity I had to create and run a strength and conditioning program for Utah State University. Within these walls many became interested in the Olympic Lifts and at the time I was competing in numerous national competitions (Senior nationals, American Open, & University Nationals.) Many had their interests sparked because they had seen me train as well as heard about the competitions I was traveling to.

I had the opportunity early in my career to develop & coach a very talented youth athlete and after receiving a handful of national medals we were invited to spend two weeks at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs at an athlete/coach development camp. I had the opportunity to learn and share ideas with the Olympic programs head coaches as well as many of the best coaches around the country.

The club continued to grow during this time and many athletes around me decided to take a leap into Weightlifting full time. From this group we now have 6 athletes at a national caliber locally as well as others around the country that I work with remotely. There are many more right on the cusp of getting qualified as well! I was fortunate enough to achieve the level of USAW National Coach with International Coach on the list of goals.

Our team is young and vibrant and enjoys competing frequently and having a good time is important to our process.


What do you enjoy most about coaching?  Explain your remote coaching and programming.

Helping others. I coach a wide array of clients and my Weightlifters are a small portion of them, but I genuinely like to help and have found myself to be effective when it comes to fitness and strength. I also believe being healthy and strong helps with living a happy life in general and think everyone can benefit from it. I am a movement nerd. I graduated with a degree in Exercise Science and Human Kinesiology. I LOVE how the body works together and accessing movement patterns. To keep it brief, the smallest variance or imbalance can throw off the entire movement process and find myself in a small group of coaches that look at their clients and movements the same as I do. I would love in the future to be a coach that people come to from all over to fix their movement patterns.

I run an entire training platform of 60+ athletes online. My software includes daily workout emails, video demonstrations, direct access to me as a coach for questions and feedback, and video analysis. All of these features have been packed into a very fluent and smooth app that I use that provides an unbelievable amount of value and helps me coach and have a positive influence on athletes I may have not been able to reach otherwise. For example, I have clients ranging from Mexico to Dubai… how cool is that? I work with weightlifters, moms, weight-loss clients, crossfitters, bodybuilders, field athletes, military… etc. You name it and I probably work with someone that fits in that category. There is more information on the programs available on my website HansenAthletics.com

How many athletes do you train? What’s your weekly routine with them?

With my online clients and physical location, I would estimate around 70 athletes. This is dynamic because I have some I never see and some I see every day! Those that come to my physical location I only offer 1 on 1’s or small group (no more than three.) The training sessions are very personalized and the amount of coaching they receive is intense.

What’s your favorite city and/or country that you’ve traveled to for competition?

Gainesville Florida for University Nationals. They had the competition in the basketball stadium which was a unique experience. They also had their spring football game that same weekend so I was able to coach and then walk over and watch football. Nothing better.


How would you describe your coaching style? How do you approach the task of motivating others?

Intense and positive. I try to make my athletes smile as well but can be stern when needed. I think coaching is dynamic and each athlete needs a different response or emotion at different times. You can’t be stagnant and one way all the time.

Motivating is also hard to pin down… everyone is driven by different factors or goals. You have to pinpoint what that goal is and use that to your advantage.

What are your plans and goals for your life in weightlifting? How do you see your future in the sport? Do you plan to stay involved in weightlifting for many years? 

Continue to grow my team to one of the largest and most competitive clubs in the country and become a senior international coach. Yes, I will stay involved for the remainder of my life.

Who are some of your major influences? Who are the people you want to thank? 

Debbie Carol, Brad Thorne, Jimmy Duke, and various other coaches around the country. There has been a lot of help and support from too many people to name. I was influenced early by the energy of California Strength and their lifters.

I want to thank my parents, family, and girlfriend. They are my biggest supporters. As well as my athletes for trusting in me and choosing me to be their coach. They are the reason I am where I am at today.


What advice would you give to athletes that are interested in trying out weightlifting?

Enjoy the process and expect to commit 5+ years to become fluent in the movements. Take it slow and don’t rush. Doing things right in the beginning will make the process much smoother and gratifying. HAVE FUN

What do you see as some of the major benefits of weightlifting?

Physically there are many benefits, but I’d rather talk about the mental. Weightlifters tend to be the toughest mentally in the group and believe in themselves… you really don’t have any other option in this sport. I’ve seen many of my athletes develop into much stronger and capable people throughout my career.

Did you ever participate in or coach any other sports?

I LOVE and play all sports recreationally. I played Football, Basketball, Track and Field, and Golf in high school. I currently play Volleyball, Golf, and Tennis as much as possible.

I coached Highschool Football and also ran their strength and conditioning program at Logan High. I also ran the strength and conditioning program for the lacrosse clubs & baseball teams at Utah State.

Anything else you would like to share?

Too much to share! I like to Podcast so if anyone is interested in doing so lets link up!

Understanding the Importance of ADM

Lately there has been a lot of attention directed towards youth participation in all sports and not just weightlifting.  Whether you refer to it as ADM (Athlete Development Model) or LTAD (Long Term Athletic Development) the philosophy is the same. How do you safely bring young children along the path to high level athletic performance, if they choose to do that?

USA Weightlifting was involved from the beginning of the USOC’s efforts which began in the summer of 2013 and concluded in the fall of 2014. Here is the link to the USOC’s ADM 

Of  course the recent release of the USA Weightlifting Safe Sport Initiative along with our own ADM model can be found right on the IDAHO LWC web page under Resources.  USA Hockey, USA Tennis and USA Swimming are the champions of ADM and Hockey took the first step 13 years ago. USA Weightlifting has borrowed, heavily, from USA Hockey as we believe that their approach is sound and has proven results.

Recent studies have shown that youth athletes are burning out before they have a chance to excel.  They travel too much, compete too much, do not get a chance to rest and recover and the focus is on results, rather than performance. Sports Specialization at a young age results in not only injury but a ‘cap’ on athletic performance.

A recent student compiled by the Indonesian Weightlifting Federation tracked the progress of 33 medal winning athletes, ages 16-17, from the Youth Olympic Games in 2010 through the end of 2013. Each Lifters progress was recorded. There was a 52% dropout rate over this time period. 15% of the athletes did not compete after the initial even in 2010. The remaining 48% had an average increase of only 10% over the next three years. The Indonesians are re-evaluating the importance of high level competition for athletes younger than 18 years of age.

Of Course the USA is not Indonesia but the results of their study are worth knowing as we want to have our athletes be safe and have long, productive, careers.  Understanding the applications of ADM as it relates to youth athletes can help us achieve these outcomes.

Basic Concepts in Developing Effective Training Programs

One of the ongoing challenges for coaches is how to create effective training programs for competitive weightlifters as well as sports performance athletes and clients.

It does not service any individual for the coach to download an elite program off of the internet nor to devise one that the individual cannot accomplish because the intensity, volume, and frequency are far beyond that person’s ability.

Components of a Credible Training Program

The fundamental look of any effective training should be as follows:

  • Begin with a proper warm up.
  • This includes both a general warmup of stretching and flexibility as well as a barbell complex of the related weightlifting movement that day.
  • Weightlifting movements should always be the first exercise completed as the nervous system is alert.
  • Strength and Power Movements are next (in this order):
    • Pulls
    • Squats
    • Presses
  • Remedial exercises such as shoulder and abdominal work are last.
  • Proper technique is always a priority and drives the training.

Sets Over Reps

Maximum reps for any set involving a weightlifting movement is 3

  • There should be 2 to 3 warm-up sets prior to 3 to 4 “target sets”.  Target sets are when the athlete repeats sets and reps at a specific repeated load.

    • 3 sets of 3 reps at 70% of a 1RM in the Clean is an example of “Target Setting”

  • Maximum reps for Pulls, Squats and Presses is 5

  • 30 total reps for any exercise should be considered the maximum number to avoid neural fatigue that results in poor movement patterns.

  • Loading

    • 80% and less - Weightlifting movements are for 3 reps, Power movements for 5 reps
    • 85% to 90% - Weightlifting movements are for 2 reps, Power Movements for 3 reps
    • + 90% and above - Weightlifting movements are for singles, Power movements for 2 reps

Variations in Training

Three Models of Training

  • Linear Increase (Light, Medium, Heavy)
  • Linear Decrease (Heavy, Medium, Light)
  • Undulating (Medium, Light, Heavy) - Studies have shown that undulating training approach provides the most variation and therefore the quickest improvement to performance.
  • Number of Training Days 
    • If training 3 days per week consider a Two Week Flip.  Week 1 should  go Snatch Day, Clean Day, Snatch Day.  Week 2 goes Clean Day, Snatch Day, and Clean Day.
    • If training 4 days a week, Snatch twice a week but one session should be a snatch derivative (Partial Movement).  Clean and Jerk twice a week but one session should have the two movements separated. (Partial Movements for both Clean and Jerk).
  • Assistant exercises that go with each weightlifting movement
    • Snatch Pulls with the Snatch, Clean Pulls with the Clean
    • One day a week replace clean pulls with RDL’s
  • Back Squats with Snatch. Front Squats with Clean
    • Consider keeping the daily Front Squat weight the same as the Clean weight as we want the Ft. Squat to maintain technical quality.
  • The Greater the Variety in Training, The Quicker the Improvement
    • Each Snatch, Clean or Jerk session should be a derivative of another movement.  Hangs, Powers, 3 stage, from Blocks and combination movements will bring about results more effectively than constantly performing the full competition movements
  • Rest is AS IMPORTANT as WORK

    • Recovery sessions should be built into the program and not a response to a collapse in training.  Studies (under the topic Supercompensation) recommend that the 3rd week of every training cycle should display a reduction in both intensity and volume.


  • Each training session is related to the one before and the one after.
  • Get Fit, so you can Train Effectively.
  • Prepare the joints for the work that is going to come later (Cycle 1)
  • Power the Muscle (Cycle 2)
  • Recruit the Nerve (Cycle 3)
  • Compete or Test
  • Recover, readapt and repeat. 





Avoiding the Bar Crash: Insight Towards Correction



Whenever questions come up regarding "Bar Crashing" and how to correct this common problem we will look at suggestions from two internationally recognized and respected coaches, Jim Schmitz of the Sports Palace of San Francisco and Lyn Jones, to gain insight on how to remedy this common problem in athletes.

Coach Schmitz

Coach Schmitz has stated many times, in his illustrious career, on the failure to meet the bar (bar crashes on the lifter): 

The coach must stress timing. The lifter must pull with his arms after he finishes his extension to maintain contact with the bar and control the speed of the decent. Remind the lifter he does not have to drop immediately to the low squat, but only to the level of the bar.
— Coach Schmitz
Jim Schmitz  coached  Team USA  in the 1980, 1988, and 1992 Olympics.

Jim Schmitz coached Team USA in the 1980, 1988, and 1992 Olympics.

Coach Schmidt continues: "This error usually occurs when the athlete does not rotate his elbows rapidly. Work on Cleans from the Hang and the going under the bar exercise.  Also, the coach can verbally stress whipping the elbows around the bar quickly."

Jim Schmitz’s Going Under The Bar Exercise

This exercise teaches the athlete the timing necessary to complete the pull and to catch the bar in a low squat. Very light weights are used in the exercise with the emphasis on speed.

Starting Position

  1. Place the feet in the starting position for the pull
  2. Take the proper grip on the bar
  3. Stand erect with the bar

The Movement

  1. Two (2) shoulder shrugs, slow. Concentrate on the contraction of the trapezius muscles.
  2. On the third shrug, fast, quickly lift the elbows and go onto the toes.
  3. Shift the feet to the low squat position
  4. Rotate the elbows under the bar, catch it on the chest, and ride into the low squat.



The exercise should be done for 5 sets of 3 reps.

Lyn Jones

There are three causes of the barbell crashing onto an athlete. The athlete has an incomplete pull (sometimes referred to as ‘cutting the pull’) the athlete loses their lever by going up onto the toes too soon and, finally, the athlete throws their head backwards
causing the barbell to ‘loop’, destroying the timing and causing the barbell to ‘crash’ onto the lifters shoulders.
— Lyn Jones

Correcting this error can be done by three remedial exercises

Lyn Jones has been in weightlifting for 60 years as a lifter, coach, official and big-event announcer

Lyn Jones has been in weightlifting for 60 years as a lifter, coach, official and big-event announcer

  1. Power Cleans:  from both the hang position and from blocks, with lighter weights with the emphasis on rotating the elbows up and through and completing the pull and shrug with straight arms.
  2. Clean Pulls from three positions; The hang, The floor and from the blocks:  Have the athlete pay attention to their staying ‘flatfooted’ as long as possible and remind the athlete to keep their head still.
  3. RDL’s:  to strengthen the lower back and again, to re-enforce staying flat-footed.

The Jerk

While most, if not all, competitors have experienced it, there may be no worse feeling, in all of weightlifting, than missing a jerk, especially after an 'easy' clean.  Two Time Olympian Wes Barnett, who only missed 4 competition jerks in his entire career can attest to the empty feeling that a missed jerk leaves behind:

Wes Barnett clean and jerks 220@108 to win Silver in the CJ and Bronze in Total at the 1997 Sr World Weightlifting Champs.

It is like you let everyone down.
— Wes Barnett

With this in mind and with the expert input of the USAW’s Coaching Education Curriculum the Idaho LWC would like to present thoughts on the Jerk itself.

Accepted Body Positions for the Classical Split Jerk

Donovan Ford

Donovan Ford

  • Body Position:
    • Straight and 'tight
    • Head is forward and 'neutral'
    • Feet are in alignment and in the 'pulling' position
  • Barbell Position
    • Bar 'rests' on the anterior deltoids
    • The grip is, actually, relaxed
  • The "Dip"
    • Drop Hips, as if sitting into a chair
    • The Dip is short, shallow, straight and quick
    • Maintain contact during the dip
    • Do not allow the bar to get 'separation' from the shoulders
  • The "Drive"
    • As soon as the athlete 'dips' and feels that they are 'flat-footed' (This is often referred to as Jerking "off the heels") The athlete drives upwards right back where they came from.
  • The Split
    • The feet move an equal distance fore and aft.
    • The front foot should move One and One half shoe lengths from the starting position
    • Both feet should land at the same time
    • The Knee of the front foot should be behind the tip of the shoe and the foot flat to the platform. (The shin should be perpendicular (90') to the knee joint)
    • The rear leg is slightly bent
    • The rear foot is on the 'ball' with the heel 'up
    • The original 'pulling position' lateral distance is maintained. This means that the feet drive straight forward and not 'wider' or more narrow in width then their starting position
  • Recovery
    • Front foot comes 'back' a half step
    • Rear foot comes 'forward' a half step.
    • Front foot comes 'back' into alignment with rear foot.

Key Points

Once the lifter has recovered from the clean, they should step their feet back into line until they are approximately in their 'pulling' position. This position, sometimes referred to as the 'vertical jump' position has been found to be most efficient for exerting upward force through the body and into the barbell. The barbell should rest on the shoulders and upper chest.

It is essential that the lifter GET SET for the jerk in the most methodical manner possible.  Many athletes take a deep breath before jerking so that they inflate the chest cavity providing a solid ‘platform’ that supports the weight during the dip and drive phase of the movement.

Arm position, prior to jerking is also ‘worthy to note’. The barbell should NOT be gripped tightly and, in fact a slack grip should be adopted  

IF the lifter grips the barbell tightly the arms and shoulders may tense up and the lifter will tend to push the barbell away from their shoulders which will cause a re-action of pushing themselves away from the barbell, ending up behind it and losing the jerk out in front.

A lot of discussion has been about exactly where to place the elbows and without getting into all the possible variations it is suggested that when the grip is relaxed, the elbows will go, comfortably, to where they should anatomically. Now this will cause each lifter to look different but if the basic Bio-mechanics that govern The Jerk are adhered to it will not create any concern.

WHAT IS IMPORTANT is that the elbows do not change position when the dip occurs. This is true for both 'fingertip' Jerkers or traditional Jerkers.

The DIP is, without question, the most important phase of the jerk.  When a jerk is lost it is usually lost here. This is when the lifter exerts maximum force on the barbell before moving into the receiving position.

Keeping the body completely vertical the athlete bends the knees. "Drop your hips as if you are sitting into a chair.” This makes you both flatfooted and 'sets’ the weight back and not forward. The athlete should feel the weight on their heels. The dip is quick and shallow. If the athlete dips to deep the weight will shift forward and a forward lean will result in a total disaster.

The speed of the dip is also of importance because if it is too fast the athlete will lose contact with the barbell. Too slow and the athletes knees will get driven forward and the barbell will follow right along.

As soon as the athlete dips they should 'drive out of it'. The result of this is similar to the process of blocking in both the high jump and the long jump. The quick turn around of momentum will cause that force to be exerted onto the barbell and assist in the lift being successful. (In jumping blocking helps turn horizontal momentum into vertical momentum.)

Contrary to popular belief athletes do not drive the barbell up very far, nor should they try to. What they should strive to do is STEP THROUGH THE JERK. The lifter drives, with leg extension, up into the toes before splitting the legs both fore and aft. The athlete should not push with their arms against the bar (because in reality MOST athletes are jerking weights that are in excess of their body-weight) as this will result in them being pushed away from the barbell. To jerk well the athlete must drive with their legs and wedge themselves under the barbell. Once the athlete lands and is in proper position then they push against the barbell with their arms. This action is swift and dealt with authority and as such will accelerate the lifters descent under the barbell into the final receiving position with the hips and shoulders in alignment and the elbows locked out.

When the feet land they should not stamp hard onto the platform. If this does occur the force is transferred back into the lead leg and causes it to straighten. This will, in the domino effect, cause the rear leg to be pushed out of its correct position and now the athlete is scrambling forward to try and save the lift.

The recovery should be controlled and unhurried. IT IS important the athlete recover front foot back first. When the athlete does this it pushes the barbell back into the shoulder girdle and onto a bone support position. If the athlete recovers back foot forward, first, the jerk can be lost forward after all the work has been done.

Jerking weights is an extremely complex skill. More and more in elite competition we are seeing vital, if not critical, jerks lost. There are many theories as to why. One way of thinking is that the athletes are finding it very hard to hold weights overhead in the split with the shoulders, hips and arms in one line. Developing shoulder strength proportional to the athlete’s hip and leg strength is a challenge that coaches and athletes must meet.

Teaching Progressions

Zygmunt Smalcerz 1972

Zygmunt Smalcerz 1972

When Zygmunt Smalcerz first became the Coach of the Resident Program he noticed that the athletes needed a lot of attention on the area of the jerk and developed a very effective set of teaching progressions that have become an integral part of the athletes training

The Jerk Progressions begins with the Press followed by the Push Press which is the press with a dip and drive. The third progression is the Push Jerk. The lifter begins the power jerk with the bar held on the chest and shoulders similar to the front squat. From this position, the legs are bent smoothly. When the athlete has lowered the bar slightly, the downward “dip” ceases crisply and the lifter drives the bar upward with the legs. As soon as this impulse is delivered to the bar, the lifter descends and the arms push upward against the bar, driving the body downward under the bar and locking the arms out rapidly.

A series of footwork drills, developed by Senior International Coach Artie Dreschler, have been developed to assist the athlete in progressing to the Split Jerk. These drills teach correct positioning and balance for receiving the bar.  While practicing the footwork drills, the athlete can become comfortable with driving the bar over head by practicing Push Jerks.

The footwork drills contains four stages:

  • Split without Dip (pre bend)

Purpose: To ensure that the athlete is driving from the dip in a balanced position and not traveling forward in the split.

The athlete begins by standing with their hands on their hips and feet in the proper position. From this position, the lifter bends the knees slightly and pauses. The lifter then drives up and into the split position. The coach should ensure the lifter is properly balanced with weight distributed evenly.

Dip without stick

Dip without stick

  • Split with Dip (counter movement)

Purpose: To ensure that the athlete can mimic the dip, drive and receiving position.

The athlete begins by standing with their hands on their hips and feet in the proper position. From this position, the lifter dips and drives into the split position. The coach should ensure the lifter is properly balanced with weight distributed evenly.

  • Split without Dip with Stick Overhead (pre bend)

Purpose: To teach the correct torso position and bar placement overhead.

The athlete begins by standing with the bar overhead. From this position, the lifter bends the knees slightly and pauses. The lifter then jumps into the split position. The coach should ensure the lifter is properly balanced with weight distributed evenly and the bar properly placed overhead.

Dip with stick

Dip with stick

  • Split with Dip with Stick Overhead (counter movement)

Purpose: To teach the correct torso position and bar placement overhead.

The athlete begins by standing with the bar overhead. From this position, the lifter dips then drives into the split position. The coach should ensure the lifter is properly balanced with weight distributed evenly and the bar properly placed overhead.

Once an athlete has mastered the fundamentals they may use more of Coach Smalcerz advanced jerk movements to address more complex technique issues.

The most common Jerk Exercises used by the Resident Team are charted below:

The Role of the Coach in the 3rd Decade of the 21st Century

Coaching is in its most dynamic era as coaches’ work with an increasingly diverse population and face heightening demands from their athletes and the general public.  

There are broader aims, higher expectations, and more defined roles. There is access to greater information and visibility to a larger community in this digital age. All these factors make coaching both more exciting and taxing than ever before. The International Council for Coaching Excellence has established a framework of six (6) primary functions of a coach that will help to fulfill the core purpose of guiding development and improvement


Although one of the main roles of a coach is evaluating training programs and sessions, coaches must also support the development and education of other coaches.

Recent studies have shown that novice coaches are ill prepared in the following areas:

  • Motivating athletes

  • Managing and resolving conflict

  • Building relationships

  • Effective communication

  • Management topics

  • Competition preparation

Coaches can no longer depend upon their love of the sport to carry them through the complicated maze that is todays coaching arena. Therefore, coaches must develop or have available a plethora of skills to meet the needs of the athletes who they aspire to service. These include:

  • Knowing how to effectively communicate with the athletes

  • Understanding the learning process and training principles

  • Understanding and implementing the appropriate training methods

  • Understand the various coaching styles

  • Advise athletes on safety

  • Understand the causes and recognize the symptoms of over-reaching and over-training

  • Understand how to reduce the chance of injury for your athletes

  • Understand individual differences between athletes

  • Assist athletes to develop new skills

One of the KEY elements to being a successful coach is to understand HOW ATHLETES LEARN.

The main reason USA Weightlifting promotes the Top/Down, Part/Whole Progressive approach to instructing the lifts is because the remediation of instruction is built into the training. Another item of importance is to understand that poor habits learned early are almost irreversible and that the pursuit of proper technique is paramount in all aspects of training.

Athlete Quadrant

Finally how does a coach individualize and differentiate training in a group setting? By following the above listed Athletes Quadrant and the Top/Down Method the coach selects the exercises, sets, reps and weight that allow for the individual athlete to be successful during training.  An example of the use of the Athlete Quadrant is as follows:

Your athletes have a "Snatch" training session. However, where the athlete is in the Quadrant will determine the derivative of the Snatch based upon their individual progress. Novice athletes, which would be more likely in Quadrant A, would be performing Power Snatches from the Power Position while experienced athletes (Quadrants C and D) would be performing Power Snatch from the platform plus and Overhead Squat or competition snatches. The coach evaluates the quadrant and selects the differentiated training.

Nothing is of more value than the emotional, physical, cultural and even spiritual health of the athletes entrusted to our care. You can never control the factors that influence winning or placing but you can influence the factors that influence performance and in the very end it is performance that matters.