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The sport of Olympic Style Weightlifting, more commonly referred to as Weightlifting, is a sport consisting of two movements – the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk. It is one of the single best training protocols available for developing explosive power, flexibility, coordination and strength in athletics. It’s also an excellent competitive sport for those desiring a new recreational pursuit or seeking competition at sport’s highest level: the Olympics.

“The Snatch” | photo: Rob Macklem | athlete: Andrey Demanov (RUS) 94kg

Recently, Weightlifting has been growing in popularity with many individuals seeking out programs to perform and coaches to train under. Because of the immense technical component, Weightlifting demands proper instruction and a dedicated eye. While it seems you can learn anything on YouTube these days, an endeavor of great skill and performance like Weightlifting beckons a coach-athlete relationship.

So, since you’re seeking an instructor, what exactly should you be looking for in your search?


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Michael, Van, and Senior International Weightlifting coach Mike Burgener

Michael, Van, and Senior International Weightlifting coach Mike Burgener

The first question you must ask is, “Who did they train under and obtain their knowledge base from?” This is such a great inquiry because it gives you a glimpse into their education background, and quite possibly, their competitive history. Even the youngest of coaches ought to have a team or a master coach with whom they have spent considerable time. As we established above, “the internet” doesn’t count, and unfortunately neither does reading books. You are likely looking for a coach to transfer unto you the understanding of the sport, not just its theoretical knowledge. Be looking for someone who has logged some time as an apprentice while growing their Weightlifting coaching skills.

Additionally, you must inquire, “Who do they still receive coaching from?” Whether it’s business coaching, help with athletes, or personal programing, who is their go-to guy or gal? Do your best to make sure they are they continuing to progress as a coach instead of settling for the status quo.

Michael working under the watchful eye of Brian Derwin.

MSP Fitness’s Head Coach Michael Pilhofer working under the watchful eye of 1980 Olympic Team member Brian Derwin. Brian is an invaluable part of MSP’s Weightlifting lineage.

Lastly, “Have they started to establish their own Weightlifting ‘family tree’?” By no means does a coach need to have a nationally competitive squad, but are there athletes under them to whom they can point to and show progress. If so, be looking for an athlete of theirs who has a similar story to yourself, showcasing their ability to develop you as an athletes should you choose to work with them. This is also helpful because certain coaches are better with certain types of Weightlifters. While one coach might specialize in developing junior athletes, another might work best with masters athletes, or individuals in the second half of their competitive journey. Pay attention to these realities as it will help inform your choice.

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Are they / Were they an Athlete?

Michael Competing in the Minnesota Open

Michael Competing in the Minnesota Open

When it comes to their personal athletic background, you must find out, “Has this coach spent time not only training but also competing in Weightlifting at a local, national, or even international competitions? A great sense of empathy and understanding comes from a coach who has been in your shoes at one point. It is immensely insightful to discover their athletic experience. Some of the greatest coaches weren’t the best athletes; however, all ought to have some performance track record or competition history.

Assistant Coach Taylor Gish at USAW Nationals | photo: Hookgrip

Assistant Coach Taylor Gish at USAW Nationals | photo: Hookgrip

Once you’ve unveiled their athletic background, try and disseminate if they’re a similar type of competitor as you. While secondary to their coaching expertise, who they push their athletes to become will dramatically shape your decision. Do their athletes continue to progress over long periods of time? Do their athletes routinely perform well at meets, making a majority of attempts? Are there any overlapping, almost outstanding, injuries that their athletes have suffered? Observations like these will only make your choice more informed.


Do they, or the facility they coach at, have Weightlifting equipment?

msp-019sWhile some bumpers and a bar is a decent start, something more substantial should be present as well. Have they invested in quality equipment ensuring not only your safety, but their commitment to the sport and developing athletes for weightlifting? Things to look for include barbells and plates from reputable companies. Eleiko, Werksan, ZKC, DHS, Pendlay, and Rogue are just a few of the staples here in modernity. The barbells spin very well and last quite some time when well taken care of. This is a must for individuals performing snatches and cleans. Bars that spin poorly, or have shoddy knurling run the risk of injuring an athlete mid lift.

msp-002sAdditionally, does their equipment match the measurement of the sport? That is, do they have plates measuring in kilograms? While pounds are the norm here in America, Weightlifting is an internationally contested sport with both the athlete’s mass, and the weight lifted, tracked in kilos. A prime Weightlifting facility well have a couple (if not several) sets of kilogram bumpers for training purposes.

Lastly on equipment — wood platforms aren’t a must, but if you are considering all the options, a Weightlifter who wants to take the craft seriously ought to be training on one. The sport is contested on a wood surface so a facility with dedicated Weightlifting platforms really says something about their commitment. As stated, wood platform might not be your deal breaker, but don’t leave it off the table.


Does their teaching/coaching style match your learning style?

IMG_7695This component is commonly forgotten. A prospective athlete will be drawn towards a coach based on accolades with no consideration for this basic question, “Does this coach convey subject matter in a way that leads to your maximum comprehension?” While the two of you do not have to see eye to eye on everything, your style of listening and learning has to be in line with your coach’s. Look for this as you interact initially. Don’t over think the scenario, but be open to the necessity for education/coaching styles to match.


Are they close to you?

MSP Fitness | St. Louis Park (Minneapolis) Minnesota, USA

MSP Fitness | St. Louis Park (Minneapolis) Minnesota, USA

Even with all the online programs available, zip code ought to still play a huge factor in choosing a weightlifting coach. Technology can afford coaches the ability to work with athletes remotely, however when starting to lift, hands-on interaction is a must. A great resource for this is to utilize this country’s governing body of the sport: USA Weightlifting. They keep a registry of all clubs and you can use the “Find a Club” search function on their webpage. Once you’ve narrowed your search based off proximity to your home, school, or work place, reference the questions listed above and continue your vetting process.


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