American Weightlifting, the Documentary

by Keith Norris

“Never live beneath your privileges.” – Dr. Wayne Dyer

First off, Greg Everett’s American Weightlifting, the Documentary is one hell of a work of art.  And, in no small part, a true labor of love.  Because only love would compel a person to spend so much time and effort in a “thankless” endeavor.   In this case, both weightlifting itself, AND in the filming, directing and producing of a documentary on a sport that most people (in the US, at least) don’t even know exists.  Underappreciated doesn’t even begin to define both documentary making, and the art of weightlifting.   I’m damn sure Greg loved both enough to take on the tasks.   

For those involved in the sport, the obscurity is at once part of the allure, and the fly-in-the-ointment.  The want to tread where few have gone before is strong; but damn, it would sure be nice to have just a little support and recognition along the way.  Reminds me of cycling, pre Greg Lemond…and more recently, Lance Armstrong.

For my part, I’m often asked where the Oly lifts fit within my programming — both on a personal, and in a client-oriented perspective.  And I have to remind people that Olympic weightlifting is a sport in and of itself.  And as such, it has a highly technical aspect to it.  Baseball players have to spend an inordinate amount of time in the batting cage, for example, fine-tuning their cut.  Oly lifters, on the other hand, have to spend all their training time with a bar in their hands.  Two wildly different sports, two wildly different training schemes.  Both, though, requiring finely tuned and highly specialized technique.  My point is that from the outset, we cannot confuse the terms sport and training, lest we run into serious problems.  And it’s not just the general gym public who makes this mistake, but seasoned S&C coaches as well.

I think the same analogy can be drawn between training for track and field events, and using elements of track & field training in the molding of a football player.  Or the wrestling-football continuum for that matter.  All great sports that carry much crossover/carryover between one another.  And yes, Oly lifting would fit right in that same schema…if only Oly lifting were considered a viable “sport” here in the US.  And what is a viable sport in the US?  Well (in my mind, at least), that is usually defined as a sport where a kid can earn a college scholarship.   And let’s face it, most kids gravitate (or their parents/society pushes them) towards sports that have at least the potential for generating income and/or getting them an education.  I’m certainly not saying it’s right — it just is.  For instance, my own son was a fantastic athlete who could have competed in a number of sports, but I “nudged” him from an early age toward football and baseball.  Guilty as charged.

All of this, by the way, is expertly covered in the documentary.  I’m just injecting my personal twist on the matter.  But I will add that I would love to see university-level scholarships offered for the sport of weightlifting.  I’ve seen many kids narrowly miss a division II scholarship because they were just not quite good enough a football player.  Kids, by the way, who would probably really excelled at Oly lifting at the DI level.  And that’s a shame; both for the kid, and the sport.

But back to my point about incorporating the most transferable elements of track & field, wrestling and weight (Oly) lifting vis-a-vis football: yes, these sports are competitive in their own right, but they are also great off-season sports for the kids who are really more concerned about being better at football.  Again, no judgement here, that’s just the way it is.  At least in Texas and in the South.  Probably in the midwest as well.  Hell, maybe the nation?  And the reason being is that all of these sports require a great deal of speed, explosiveness and strength — the very definition of weightlifting.   Technique is for sure a factor –just not to the extent of some sports such as baseball or golf, for instance (because of the variability component).  I’ve seen some great baseball players who are surprisingly weak; never though, have I seen a great football player, wrestler or weightlifter who was weak.

I’ve said before and I say again: should full-on Oly lifting be a component to a properly designed S&C program for sports outside of weightlifting?  Probably not.  Why?  The time factor.  Football (and other sports, too) have multiple and unique requirements that must be trained.  The first that must be considered is proper metabolic conditioning.  Let’s face it: I don’t care how hard and heavy one pushes the Oly lifts, it’s just not going to prepare a football player for the metabolic demands of the sport.  Unless, of course, we go the CrossFit route and use these lifts as part of the metabolic conditioning.

Ugh, don’t get me going with that….

So as coaches and athletes, we get very good at teasing out certain aspects of other sports that transfer well to the training of the chosen sport.  What can weightlifting provide for an American football player (and rugby, as well)?  Explosive force production AND force absorption are key aspects of Oly lifts that we as coaches want to extract from these lifts.  And though I find the fine-tuned technical aspects of the sport a beautiful thing indeed, spending time honing these techniques simply does not make for a better football player.  Time is better spent on components that can be found in, for lack of a better term, the “power” versions of the full lift.  And I’d reduce that even more by saying the power version of the clean is really what I’m most interested in.  Presses and jerks as well — but even with these movements I’ll modify them some as to include a controlled lowering and catch vs a drop to the floor.  Why forgo the opportunity to extract some hypertrophy work and/or force absorption work?

Again, don’t get me wrong.  If a football-minded kid wanted to pursue full-on, competitive weightlifting in the off-season, I’d be thrilled.  My point is simply that I don’t think it’s worth the time investment within the context of a dedicated football S&C program to teach the full lifts.  We must keep in mind goals, and the Five Ts.  Are you a CrossFit competitor?  Then you’d better be damn proficient in the full lifts — you’ll see them in competition.  Are you a football player?  Well, unless the rules are altered so as to allow snatching for first downs, then I’ll stick to only teaching the power versions of the lifts.  I have to make players better at the demands of gaining first downs under the rules as they are.  Simple as that.

And what about with me, personally?  Why don’t I teach or perform the full on lifts?  What about my clients?  Well, I don’t teach my clients the technical aspect of rock climbing, either.  So why would I teach them the fine aspects of any other sport?  That’s not what they come to me for.

And personally, though I for sure see the beauty in the sport of weightlifting, and consider the competitors gifted athletes, I don’t plan on competing in the full lifts (or in CrossFit), so I don’t train the technical aspects of these lifts.  I’m still training for things I like to see in a football player — explosiveness and the ability to absorb force, so I stick with the power versions of the lifts.  Again — my goals, and my Five Ts.

But just because I don’t engage the sport full-on doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the hell out of it.  And you probably would too, if you knew it a little better.  So that said, I’d highly recommend checking out American Weightlifting; it’s one hell of a documentary.  And you can use code paleofx (while it lasts) at checkout to save yourself $5.  How sweet is that?

So go check it out now — you’ll really be glad you did!


In health, fitness and ancestral wellness -





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