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Rookies, Experts, and Pimps
Matt Foreman

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Those of you who read Performance Menu (i.e., the cool crowd) got a nice treat a few months ago when we published an interview with Christine Girard, the little Canadian weightlifting tornado who won the Olympic bronze medal in London. She gave us terrific answers to the questions we asked, stuff that provokes some hardcore pondering.

One of the things that caught my attention was Christine’s discussion of how she trains. She’s been lifting for seventeen years now, and she’s had several different coaches throughout her career. However, she’s basically been training on her own for the last few years…creating her own training programs and workouts instead of being guided by a coach. Her exact words were, “In the past few years, I’ve been in control of my programming and preparation, and that was the best for me. I was able to do that because of everything I learned in the past years though, and I don’t suggest other athletes do that. Training and competing is hard enough, when you have the chance to have a good coach taking decisions for you it is really worth following!”

This is a quote we can learn a lot from, specifically about the idea of when it’s right for athletes to strike out on their own instead of lifting for a coach. This is a good topic because one of the biggest things I’ve noticed in weightlifting over the last few years is that more and more people seem to think they’re ready to start developing their own training methods pretty early in their careers. It’s the age of the five-minute expert, relative newcomers who start preaching how to do this sport before they’ve built up any credentials. I’m not saying this to insult anybody. But I think it’s something we should look at because it’s becoming more prevalent and there are some words of caution that need to be thrown in.

Weightlifting is something that takes a very long time to master, for both athletes and coaches. True, some people have a stronger aptitude for it and they rise up through the ranks quicker than others. But this doesn’t change the fact that even if you’ve had early success, you still have a lot to learn. Neither athletes nor coaches are qualified to start building their own programs until they’ve had a significant body of experience where they’ve worked at the “learner level” under people who are real experts.

Christine’s description of her lifting career is a pretty good example of this. According to what she stated in the interview, she trained under various coaches for eleven or twelve years. Eventually, she was able to take what she had learned from all of them and start going it alone. This was a good move for her, and the results have obviously been highly successful. However, she was quick to point out that she doesn’t recommend self-coaching for other athletes who are newer and less experienced. She was smart enough in her early years to know that she needed guidance and learning, even though I think it’s clear that she has an independent, determined personality.

My road was similar to hers. I started coaching myself when I left Washington and moved to Arizona in 2004. At that time, I had been lifting for fourteen years. All of my training prior to this had been under a coach, and I feel the same as Christine about the issue.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not laying down a mandatory time period of 10+ years before you’re ready to go it alone. I don’t think there’s a specific amount of “time served” you have to put in. The point I’m trying to make is that the best people in this sport usually build up a large body of experience being trained by somebody else…and learning. I know now that I wouldn’t have been ready to start doing my own thing when I was in my early years. And I don’t think anybody is, to tell you the truth. When I was getting started, my mindset was, “I’m going to find somebody who has been really successful at this, and then I’m going to learn from them how they got there.”

For some reason, it seems like this type of thinking is being dismissed by a lot of people. Lifters and coaches think they’re ready to build their own empire because they’ve lifted in a few meets, taken a weekend coaching course, read a lot of stuff on the internet, or coached a couple of lifters who made the qualifying totals for national meets. You wind up in a situation where it’s just the blind teaching the blind how to be more blind.

Now, I also understand that many people HAVE TO train themselves and do their own thing because they live in an area where there are no coaches. I get this. However, the internet has changed the world and it’s now possible to get programming and technical guidance from people who have solid levels of experience and skill. Nobody, even if they live in the farthest reaches of the boondocks, has an excuse for not taking advantage of these opportunities. (Warning: Be careful who you listen to on the internet. There are some people on there that are labeled as experts who couldn’t coach their way out of a wet paper bag with their hands on fire.)

All I’m trying to do here is give you some free advice. As I always say, you’re welcome to disagree with me and go in a different direction if you want to. Maybe you’re that one special pimp, the exception to all the rules. Maybe you popped out of the birth canal of the weightlifting gods, fully developed and all-knowing. If that’s the case, you probably don’t even need to be on this website. Please, get out there and build your own program so you can start hosing us down with your wisdom. Don’t let me get in your way.

Sorry, I get a little carried away with the sarcasm sometimes. But you get the point, all kidding aside. Just some food for thought…


Matt Foreman is the football and track & field coach at Mountain View High School in Phoenix, AZ. A competitive weightliter for twenty years, Foreman is a four-time National Championship bronze medalist, two-time American Open silver medalist, three-time American Open bronze medalist, two-time National Collegiate Champion, 2004 US Olympic Trials competitor, 2000 World University Championship Team USA competitor, and Arizona and Washington state record-holder. He was also First Team All-Region high school football player, lettered in high school wrestling and track, a high school national powerlifting champion, and a Scottish Highland Games competitor. Foreman has coached multiple regional, state, and national champions in track & field, powerlifting, and weightlifting, and was an assistant coach on 5A Arizona state runner-up football and track teams. He is the author of the books Olympic Weightlifting for Masters: Training at 30, 40, 50 & Beyond and Bones of Iron: Collected Articles on the Life of the Strength Athlete.


More from Matt Foreman

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13 Comments
Mike 2013-05-14
"Lifters and coaches think they’re ready to build their own empire because they’ve lifted in a few meets, taken a weekend coaching course, read a lot of stuff on the internet, or coached a couple of lifters who made the qualifying totals for national meets. You wind up in a situation where it’s just the blind teaching the blind how to be more blind. " So how do you suggest these people start developing programs? I guess no more people are allowed to become coaches?
Stef 2013-05-14
Mike, I think you missed the spirit of what was being said. Your generalization of the intent of the article leads me to believe you might be blind.
Fran 2013-05-14
This about sums it up... "Weightlifting is something that takes a very long time to master, for both athletes and coaches. True, some people have a stronger aptitude for it and they rise up through the ranks quicker than others. But this doesn’t change the fact that even if you’ve had early success, you still have a lot to learn. Neither athletes nor coaches are qualified to start building their own programs until they’ve had a significant body of experience where they’ve worked at the “learner level” under people who are real experts. "
Matt Foreman 2013-05-14
Whoa! I just found out a few people got pissed about this one. Let me throw in a couple of extra thoughts/clarifications. If anybody thought I was disrespecting them, that wasn’t my intention. If you’re a coach and you don’t have a long body of previous experience like I’m describing in this article, I’m not calling you incompetent or anything like that. If it came across that way, it’s my fault for not making my point clearly enough. What I was trying to say is that the best coaches are the ones who have learned a lot before they start coaching. If you’re a coach and you don’t have a lot of experience in the sport, it’s a tricky situation because you’re teaching people to do something that you haven’t really mastered yourself. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable statement, and I’ll stand behind it. Now, before you take this personally, remember that I don’t know you and I’m not passing any judgment on your skill, qualifications, or ability. I have no idea how long you’ve been doing this, what you know, who you’ve worked with, or anything else. Try not to get too offended by any of it. Is there anything wrong with teaching weightlifting to somebody when you don’t have a ton of experience in it yourself? I think it’s safe to say there’s a lot of potential for incorrect instruction. But that doesn’t mean you should chuck your whole program in the furnace. That’s not what I’m saying. If you’re a coach who doesn’t have a lot of experience and you’re working hard to “learn as you go,” that’s cool. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re a coach who doesn’t have a lot of experience and you’re trying to promote yourself as a supreme guru, that’s a different story. These are just some extra words about the subject. I'm not blind enough to think everybody is always going to agree with what I write. That comes with the territory, and it’s not the end of the world for any of us.
PaleoVegan 2013-05-14
I agree with you Matt, I personally trained a long six months before I went to get my Crossfit Instructor Certification. I now am a fitness expert, I teach the olympic lifts and gymnastics movements to all my clients with success except to those that don't listen and get injured, but is their fault, they don't listen. If you don't puke at the en of your workout is not a workout!!! The PaleVegan Athlete.
Mike 2013-05-15
I wasn't personally offended by the article I was just trying to make the case that people have to start somewhere. Even if it means screwing up a few times because you are not around coaches with years of experience.
Greg Everett 2013-05-15
Mike - I think Matt's point is not to discourage new coaches, but to discourage such coaches from making claims beyond their experience and abilities, which has the consequence of misleading developing lifters unfairly. Yes, everyone has to start somewhere, and it should be at the beginning like everyone else, and expertise earned, in whatever period of time it takes each individual (which in my opinion varies dramatically), not just claimed or presumed. Prior to the internet, the way a weightlifting coach (like any coach) was vetted was by his or her production of competitive athletes - that is, people in the community were very aware of who was coaching whom, and that painted a pretty clear picture in most cases. These days, because of the possibility of positioning oneself on the internet, and the enormous influx of new people to weightlifting, it's more difficult to distinguish the experts from those who are not yet at that level. I think all Matt is saying is that people should consider where they're getting information from - and not necessarily to discount any info from new coaches, but to be more aware of the source and weigh such info against whatever may be coming from accomplished coaches with decades of successful experience. I'm young in this sport, and I continue to defer to coaches like Burgener, Thrush, Takano, et al, because these are guys I continue to learn from along with my own experience.
Matt Foreman 2013-05-15
Thanks Greg, and you totally got what I was trying to say. When I wrote this, there were two main target groups I was thinking about: - Athletes who try to start coaching themselves before they're ready - Phony internet coaches with no credibility Somehow in the writing of it, it branched out and I can see where there's a possibility of misinterpreting it and thinking I'm condemning a lot of other coaches. Several people seemed to get what I was saying the first time, but it missed the mark with some others (which I understand). Anyway, your evaluation nailed my intention on the head.
Chris 2013-05-15
Good article. I am new to weightlifting and have been teaching myself for a while the best that I can. I am currently looking for a good coach though. My question is once you have a coach whats the recommended amount of time spent training with the coach? If you train 5-6 days a week is it ideal to be with the coach for all training sessions?
Matt Foreman 2013-05-15
Hey Chris, As much as you can get, basically. If you can have a coach with you every day, do it. If not, just take whatever you can get.
Tom DiStasio 2013-05-16
Great article Matt! Its good to hear sound words of wisdom from people with years of great coaching (being coached and coaching others) under their belt. And Greg, with that empire you're building at Catalyst, your soon (if not already) to be put up there in that list of experts of the likes of Burgener, Takano, and Thrush!
Ranju 2013-05-21
all the years i've been lifting I've taelkd to and learned a lot from the very best in the strength world. As hard as it is for most to accept or believe, there are very few at the Olympic level that are NOT on chemical assistance . For every type of drug test, there is a way to mask that drug. The only reason someone gets caught is they screwed up their timing on something. There are also always new formulas being designed and it takes time to catch up with the testing procedures. There's just too much money involved!
Jordan 2013-05-23
I agree Matt, this is a good point. I unfortunately learned this the hard way. Being a relatively accomplished strength coach I came to Olympic lifting and thought that the skills would be directly transferable, but the truth is that O-lifting is its own beast, especially after you get past the raw beginner stage. The learning curve is definitely long and steep, and I ended up designing my way into bilateral patellar tendinitis and stagnant performance. The long and the short is that even experienced trainers/strength coaches need to take a good long time being mentored in the sport specifically before jumping into designing programs. Thanks Matt.
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