Coach Glenn Pendley responds to the notation
that the top US Olympic lifters lack strength and could benefit
from the Conjugate
System - As suggested in Louie
Simmons Video Interview.
We are not doing as well as we want to in USA weightlifting,
this much is true but there seem to be some incorrect assumptions
that we dont have strong Olympic lifters, or that our best
are not as strong as the best in the world. Lets look at
a few weight classes.
Lets start at 94kg. We have a Junior (19 years old)
lifter who back squats 250kg for a triple. One of the lifters
who was near US record levels a few years ago had a 290kg front
squat. Obviously there are many more examples, but these two
are sufficient to demonstrate that our best lifters in this weight
class, both junior and senior, do not lack in strength when compared
to the strength levels of lifters who win medals at the Olympics.
We have several lifters in this class who can out squat Kolecki,
the polish 94kg world champion. Of interest also might be the
fact that the current top US athlete in this class, Jon North,
is not a big squatter, although we are working hard to turn him
into one. He regularly defeats lifters who squat 20-40 kilos
more than him.
Let us move down a weight class to the 85?s. Kendrick Farris
our top lifter in this class, and Matt Bruce, our second best
lifter, can both out squat, out front squat, and in Kendricks
case out deadlift the vast majority of European athletes, and
the majority of athletes who defeat them in international competition.
Moving down again to the 77?s, we have, or recently had,
Lance Frye. I am going to say that his strength numbers,
again, were probably better than at least half of the top 10
lifters in the world in his weight class. Even so, he was regularly
defeated by Chad Vaughn here in the USA, who had much less impressive
Going further, we arrive at the 69kg weight class and Caleb
I believe currently our second best athlete. Although
he has been regularly defeated in the past by another lifter
from Georgia who squats much less, his squat and front squat
numbers are, once again, as good as any, better than m ost in
his weight class on the international level. Caleb is an ex-powerlifter,
a world champion I believe, who is truly gifted in the strength
arena, but his great squat and deadlift do not allow him to defeat
European lifters who squat less but snatch and clean and jerk
Should we continue to move down in weight class, and talk
about Tim McRae, who probably outsquatted ALL of his competitiors
on the international stage? Or should we move up in weight class
and talk about Mark Henry or Shane Hammon? What about Wiley Webster
who pulled an 800lb deadlift in high school at the 220lb weight
class but was entirely unsuccessful in weightlifting? What about
Pat Mendez, could the author of this article match his 800lb
squat without a belt or wraps?
The fact is that although not all weightlifters are super
strong (neither are all powerlifters) the USA has certainly had
a number of folks in the past 20 years with truly world class
strength on the slow lifts.
A second assumption seems to be that the OTC isnt worried
about strength. This assumption usually comes from those outside
of the OL community, because within the weightlifting community,
the knock on the OTC is usually that they concentrate TOO MUCH
on strength, endless squatting and pulling and pressing, and
not enough on the competitive lifts. The list of athletes who
have gone to the OTC and made huge progress on their squat numbers
but negligable progress on the competitive lifts is certainly
A third incorrect assumption is that OL coaches in the
USA dont care much about strength. I am an OL coach in
the USA, and I know that I care deeply about increasing the strength
of those I am coaching. And, in my interaction with other coaches,
I have yet to meet anyone who wouldnt do pretty much anything
to put another few pounds on their lifters squats. OL coaches,
the majority at least, are obsessed with squat numbers and go
to all lengths to improve them.
And last, there is the assumption that we have not tried
any of the methods espoused by Louie Simmons or the conjugate
method. Many have. I have. I drove all the way to Westside from
Wichita Falls, Texas with two of my lifters just to learn
what I could from Louie. I have talked to Louie off and on on
the phone since around the early 90?s, when I first started incorporating
his methods into m y own training.
The problem is, no one, including myself had yet been able
to get it to work. For a time I tried implementing things exactly
as Louie described, with disastrous results. Then I modified
it in ways my experience as an OL coach told me it needed to
be modified with slightly better results
but in the end,
I was never able to make it work as well as the method the Europeans
and the others who are defeating us use, namely doing the competitive
lifts heavy and often and squatting a LOT.
I have a lot of respect for Louie. I have taken valuable
things from him that I use to this day and am grateful for. But
as far as the system as a whole, I have tried it as have others,
and no one had yet to be able to make it successful for OL. Great
for getting the squat up, but that doesnt matter when the snatch
goes down at the same time.
One example of a lifter who went down the path of chasing
strength by de-emphasising the competitive lifts in training
and trying anything to get his back squat and deadlift up.
Donny Shankle is one of the better known American weightliters.
He did 165kg snatch and a 201kg clean and jerk in competition
within his first 3 years of training. This was done with a front
squat of about 230kg, and a back squat of about 250kg. He also
deadlifted around 230kg At one point, after some frustration
he decided to pursue a program of only doing the snatch and clean
and jerk once a week, and trying very hard the rest of the time
to raise his squat and deadlift. Using various methods, he increased
both his back squat and his deadlift to over 300kg over the course
of about 18 months. Oddly enough, he could NOT make personal
records on the competitive lifts. Fast forward a couple of years,
and he is back to training the snatch and clean and jerk in the
European manner, meaning constantly, and has made a 210kg clean
and jerk in training, a 204kg clean and jerk in competition,
and a 173kg snatch in training, all new personal records. His
front squat is back around 230kg.
His venture into the world of pursueing maximal strength
at all costs wasted about 2 years, which is a lot of time for
a guy in his mid-twenties who is in a sport that favors the young.
The lesson? More strength is always good, but if you want it
to be applicable to OL, it has to be gained and be able to be
maintained within the framework of a decent OL training system.
This is a lesson that has been learned time and time and time
again by various weightlifters. But still, those outside the
sport continue to propose that de-emphasizing the lifts in training
and concentrating on strength more will lead to some sort of
magic. We all want to squat more, but it has to be done within
the constructs of a training system that favors the lifts and
makes one good at them, or it is not much use.
Coach Glenn Pendley
Former Junior World Powerlifting Champion
Olympic Weightlifing Coach