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Janelle: You're listening to "Staying in the Game," a Plum Dragon Herbs podcast where we have conversations about mindset and techniques for staying at the top of your game. I'm your host, Janelle Leatherwood. Joining us today is the Olympic weightlifting coach Robert Ronan, who has traveled to mainland China several times to study the technique they use in this sport. Coach Ronan is one of only a handful of western weightlifting coaches invited to professional training facilities in China. Robert and the team at Austin Barbell work with athletes of all levels and ages, from beginners to national competitors. He was a competition coach for world master champion, Jianping Ma, in the 2019 IWF world master championships. And is currently working with athletes to qualify for national events. Welcome to our show, Rob.

Robert: Thanks for having me, Janelle.

Janelle: Yes, absolutely. So, I was thinking it would be great if you could begin with giving us an overview of what Olympic weightlifting is.

Robert: So, Olympic weightlifting is probably the most objective and simplified sport there is. It basically comes down to one simple thing which is lifting a heavy object off the floor, which is a barbell loaded with plates within a designated amount of time and putting it above your head. So, that sounds very simple. And there are... you know, there's dozens of rules around it. And we'll get into a little bit of that, and that's, sort of, how the training, you know, is shaped around Olympic weightlifting. But at the end of the day, it's really lifting a bar, putting it above your head within a given amount of time. So, again, that sounds very simple. It's very objective. But when you get down to it, the amount of training that goes into Olympic weightlifting is 99% of the time. So, with Olympic weightlifting, and not to be mistaken with, you know, powerlifting, or CrossFit, or anything else, there's two significant lifts that are performed within the sport. And some could argue three. So, you've got the snatch, which is lifting the bar, one single movement, and basically catching it and receiving the bar from a squat position or from a low position. And then you've got the clean and jerk. And the clean and jerk is you pull the bar, you rack it on your chest, or, you know, front rack position, and then you jerk it above head. So, really three movements overall. The snatch generally takes place in less than one second. The clean and jerk about two seconds because it's two different movements. Each athlete will have three attempts at each lift. So, three attempts at the snatch, three attempts at the clean and jerk. And they've got one minute in time to complete that lift. So, it sounds very simple. It's very objective, very easy.

What complicates things is, you know, you've got three judges in front of you or three referees, rather, that are judging you. And you're looking for specific things, like, you know, making sure that all the technical rules are met, that you lockout in one single movement, that your elbows aren't bent, making sure there's a technical marshal that's making sure, you know, that everything is met from a technical perspective, you know, is the bar loaded correctly? Are you wearing the right uniform or what they call a costume in the sport? Things along those lines. And then there's rules wrapped around, you know, how you can call individual numbers for an athlete going up for a lift. So, where it gets really fun, is that if you've got an athlete that's, you know, competing in somebody very close in size or strength. Or if they're competing against themselves. So, in many cases, what can happen is an athlete may fall themselves within the competition. So, that competition, they may hit, let's say, you know, 100-kilo snatch. And then they have to follow themselves, they get a two-minute clock for the next lift. So, you're basically going for a maximum attempt. In some cases, these are attempts where the athlete is in uncharted water, hitting lifts that they've never hit before. So, from, you know, a mental perspective, you know, it's very nerve-wracking, and you're in the skintight outfit, in front of a bunch of strangers, being, you know, objectively judged, you know, for something that you've trained, you know, could be six months, could be a year, it just could be, you know, a world championship of some sort, you know, and it all comes down to one second. So, this is why the training is so important just not from a physio standpoint, but also from, you know, a mental standpoint. You have to be prepared to compete.

Janelle: Yes. And so, if technically all things are equal between the athletes competing, then what gives them an edge? Is it the style?

Robert: There's a couple of things. So, this sport is broken up in two divisions. So, you've got size, gender, age, and that all determines, you know, the category in which the athlete will be in. So, for females, it'll be... And actually, this is where I'm gonna blank out, I believe there's 10 categories for female, 10 for male. So, they could have a female category of, let's say, it's a 59-kilo category, and it's all metric because it's an international sport. That 59-kilo category could have athletes in open category which are, you know, teenage age, all the way up to, you know, 35-year-old. Once they hit 35, they hit masters. And then every five years in increments, and basically, you know, those categories change. As someone gets older, their strength obviously starts to diminish and they have more problems physically. So, all things are equal to some extent. What really sets them apart at the end of the day is, you know, how prepared you are for competition. A lot of people, you know, they may train. What we see in this country is we see a lot of athletes that will train in functional fitness or CrossFit or something along those lines, and then they supplement their CrossFit training with Olympic weightlifting.

What we do at Austin Barbell is very different. My athletes are full-time Olympic weightlifters in terms of that sort of only athletic discipline that they adhere to, many of them are not crossfitters. And we find that, you know, when you focus on too many movements, what will ultimately happen is it's very difficult to get proficient in anything. So, we really just train for those two movements. And the training itself is's not what you would think in terms of, like, just doing those two movements over and over. We try to add a lot of variety, a lot of accessory movements, really try to prepare the athlete for any situation they may encounter when they get to competition. And you really have to think of all situations. It could be something as simple as, you know, the bathroom is, you know, 200 feet from the platform and, you know, and somebody needs to be prepared to encounter that. It could be, you know, where there's a temperature change, you know, maybe we trained in an air-conditioned environment, which we're very fortunate to do in Texas because it's 110 degrees here in the summer. But a lot of competitions will be in smaller venues where they may not have a temperature-controlled environment. So, there'll be days where we train, you know, without AC to get athletes prepared for that aspect of it. Different times a day, training in the morning versus training in the afternoon. You never know within a competition if you're going to be competing at, you know, the crack of dawn, or if it's gonna be 8:00 pm.

Janelle: So, just training them for overall this very high pressure intense competitive setting is really key, it sounds like.

Robert: It's absolutely key. And not to, you know, to take it a step further, most athletes are somewhat starving themselves in order to make weight, so that they can be in the category they want to compete in. So, a lot of my athletes will typically weigh two to three kilograms over their designated body weight or further category. And when they go to weigh in, unlike boxing or other sports, they have to weigh in basically two hours before they hit the platform for competition. So, many of these athletes are dehydrated, you know, they're hungry, they're a little hangry sometimes. You know, we try to get them hydrated and back up to where they need to be before they, you know, make that first lift. And then, you know, add anxiety and stress to the situation. It really makes things intense sometimes.

Janelle: Yeah. And that's actually a whole other topic, is cutting away and trying to do that safely, though I'm sure we could go into. I was recently listening to a podcast about that and how tough that is for athletes to do that.

Robert: You have to be realistic. A lot of athletes know, they'll come in and they'll be in an 81-kilo category. And they say they want to cut to a 73 because they believe they'll be stronger. And, you know, in this sport, because you're lifting weight, the rules of physics, it takes weight to move weight. So, if you cut weight, you will move less, you're not going to be able to maintain that strength. In general, you'll just, you know, be physically weaker and mentally drained because, you know, you're dehydrated.

Janelle: Yeah. So, let's talk now for a minute about some of the travel you did in China and studying their techniques. And, so, tell me what is different about the style of training that you teach?

Robert: So, let's go back to 2015, I believe. That was my first trip to China. I went to a city called Hefei, which is... It's sort of a, you know, industrial city, lots of pollution, you know, not much going on there. But they do have an Olympic Training Center. I went with, kind of, a tour provider or camp provider called MA Strength. They were, you know, very good at setting up and making sure that everybody get access at that given time. So, my first impressions in terms of walking into a training center was, "Wow, everybody is so young." I'm in my mid-40s. And when upon walking in, you see children, you see young athletes, and then you've got just the athlete to coach ratio is just overwhelming. But they always start these athletes out in these general preparedness programs or GPP. And generally, what they're doing is they're trying to determine where the athletes are going to go in terms of their career within the Chinese sports system. So, there'll be in flexibility training, you know, their bodies are still developing in terms of, you know, everybody has an ideal body type for certain types of sports. Obviously, a sprinter is gonna be, you know, long and lean, where a basketball player might be taller, and an Olympic weightlifter in most cases, you know, the best body type is, you know, somebody who's a bit shorter, short legs, long torso, it really gives the athlete, you know, the perfect advantage in terms of, like, leavers. So, upon going there, you know, we walk into this, you know, flexibility training, where we see all these young boys and girls, like, getting into these pretzel yoga positions. It was very stressful to watch them. And that was interesting in itself, how serious, you know, China takes this, you know, just takes sports in general.

You know, it's a bit of a system. And when you start off with such a large population of athletes, it's very easy, you know, to refine and build that Olympic quality, you know, in a platform or podium ready athlete at the end of the day. So, you know, they start off with, you know, half a million weight lifters in the beginning. And then at the end, they've got eight athletes for their world team on the male line and on their female side. So, when you really look at the numbers, it's astonishing. But this is how they're able to accomplish gold medals. You know, every quad, and what I mean by quad is for every Olympic, you know, games that's held.

So, the training itself on the Olympic weightlifting side is, it's dramatically different than what we're doing here. So, because the athletes are starting in such a young age, they're prepared differently. So, what we find is that when you take a younger athlete, and you expose them to technical drills and flexibility drills, their body is in a position where they can start handling weight when they start going through puberty and change. Whereas, in this country, what we find is a lot of parents will sort of back off on strength sports until that athlete gets past puberty. And what effectively happens then is that you have an athlete that has, like, little flexibility. They're just not prepared from a balanced perspective. They don't understand motor control. And they have a hard time adapting, you know, to these new movements. Not saying that they can't, it just comes later in age. And it could be as big of a gap as, you know, eight years in terms of athletic development. And in the sport of Olympic weightlifting, your time in terms of, like, when you peak, it's very finite. You have four to eight years maximum where you're at the top of your game. Unlike you know, baseball, where you can be, you know, at the top of the game for, you know, what, 16 years if you're good.

So, starting athletes young is is key within the Chinese system. And then they have multiple tiers of how they bring athletes through the schooling. So, they'll have feeder schools, which are these smaller developmental schools where they work on what I just spoke about in terms of, like, flexibility and technique. And then they move them into intermediate school or provincial school if they're good enough. And then from there, they'll start working provincial being state level. They'll start training in a more of a closed setting, with coaches, smaller ratio. So, instead of at the child level, where it's, you know, maybe 15 kids to 1 coach, there'll be maybe 4 athletes to 1 coach. And that's where the coaches really start diving in into, you know, the specifics of the sport itself. Looking, you know, it's a really refining technique. It's very detail-oriented, and it's very tactical. Really, when you look at the sport from a time perspective, the Russians really had, like, the greatest amount of accomplishment early on in like the 80s and 90s. And they did it... A lot of this was done through observation, science, research, you know, heavy documentation, trying to figure out what works, what doesn't, and then applying that towards athletes as they move forward. The Chinese system is somewhat different. They've taken everything that they've learned from the Russians. And they've applied that, and now that it's more tactical where the Russians would take a program, that's could be written a year in advance, and say, if the athlete follows this program to the tee, they'll end up in competition and they'll do well. Where the Chinese are more, which change based on the situation on a day to day basis based on what we see, and adjust for, you know, adjusting the short term for a long term result.

Janelle: And so, what aspects of what training you've seen abroad have you brought back to your facility would you say?

Robert: So, we follow a similar mindset in terms of adjusting based on, you know, the situation. We always program with a goal in mind in terms of what we're presenting to our athletes. So, if you have athletes that are competing twice a year, you know, we'll look at that athlete's deficiencies and we'll try to build a program and a training structure around, you know, where they need to be in a given time. But we're always looking at the situation on a daily basis, trying to figure out, you know, what we can do in order to make that athlete better for that training session, just not the long-term view. So, in my experience, you know, it's the small details that really have the biggest impact. Specifically, when you're looking at, you know, something that's very technical, it's very detail orientated. And, you know, the smallest variance in terms of mistake can really, you know, it could basically cost you a one-kilo difference, which is, you know, just over two pounds, could be the difference of, you know, you making the championship getting a gold or getting a silver. I mean, it's quite significant. So, precision is really the most, you know, important thing when we're dealing with our athletes.

Janelle: And when we talked earlier last week, you mentioned some key things like speed, stability, timing.

Robert: Sure. So, one of the things that the Chinese system does very well, and I'm not saying other systems aren't doing this, but the Chinese system has made it very simple for any coach to walk into any situation with any athlete. And they built these principles or guidelines. And what those are, are basically it's five words, it's very simple, every sport within, you know, the Olympic Training Center has these, so for Olympic weightlifting, it's close, past, low, stable, timing. For instance, in, you know, Olympic diving, you know, one of the words is knife. And that, you know, obviously that cut through the water is as best as possible or quickly as possible, with the least amount of splash. But Olympic weightlifting, if you can adhere to these five principles, and not everybody is gonna be, you know, able to, you know, master every five. But if you can adhere or stick to, you know, the vast majority of them, you will be proficient in the sport. So, these are, you know, fundamental properties that make a good athlete. So, when you lift the bar, you want it to be close to you, keeping that bar, you know, as close to the center of balance as possible. As that bar deviates and pushes out from an athlete's body, it gets heavier, and then there's more chance of that, you know, lift being failed. In terms of speed, always important, but we're always focused on the speed underneath the bar, not so much, you know, how fast that athlete can pull the bar. It's important, but it's more important for that athlete to be able to, like, sit down and receive the bar and, you know, not have the bar crash on them and make that lift. Getting low, this is the flexibility, you know, aspect of the sport, you have to be flexible as a gymnast, you have to be graceful as a dancer, and you have to be able to, you know, sit down... For every inch, you can, you know, drop below the bar, it's a greater chance that you can receive the bar, and less that you have to lift the bar up. So, let's think this, the lifting apparatus is a barbell, and you know, for every inch, you have to lift this thing above your head, it gets incrementally harder. So, if you can sit lower, it just gets easier. So, we work a lot of...

Janelle: Yeah. And helps prevent injuries.

Robert: Exactly, exactly. So, we work a lot on flexibility, really trying to get athletes in those, you know, hopefully, they're comfortable positions, but at first, generally, they're uncomfortable. Being stable is important, making sure that when they catch the bar, they're not, you know, the shoulders can lock, you know, they're not necessarily shaking, that they're in a position where the bar is not gonna move forward or backwards. You want that barbell and that athlete to be in the same horizontal plane, I'm sorry, vertical plane. And then the timing is necessary in terms of how they lift the bar. Just like a dance move. If you've got, you know, a couple, you know, dancers on stage and one dancer is not in sync with the others, it's very obvious. Same thing in weightlifting. If they're lifting the bar, and the timing is not precise, they're gonna pull under too quickly. They're not gonna pull in time, you know, they'll jump forward, jump back, all these, you know, errors can happen.

Janelle: Yeah, that's great. I really love that rundown of all those different principles. You call them the five...

Robert: The five Chinese weightlifting principles. And like I mentioned before, you know, every system has, you know, their own principles for weightlifting. And these principles apply to, universally, to all systems, you know, American, Russian. However, you know, where the Chinese did very well is that, you know, portability of allowing the coaches to, you know, taking a coach from a high-level training center. Based on, you know, these principles, they can then walk into a junior level, you know, training facility and then start coaching. All the coaches are universally trained because it's a system. And that's really, you know, the key point here is that, you know, we're trying to take a system that's been developed in another country and apply it towards western athletes at Austin Barbell. What we find in a lot of other, you know, what we find here in the US, which is great, they've got certification programs and whatnot. It's not a very systematic approach. It's more of, you know, let's teach people fundamentals and push them out into the coaching, you know, populace. So, I think, in our belief, taking a system and applying it, making it repeatable, is really the approach that works the best with our athletes from what we've seen.

Janelle: Yeah. So, take me through, like, a day in training in your facilities. I know right now athletes are having to stay home. But what would a typical day in your training center look like?

Robert: Sure. So, a typical day, we train our athletes, most of them train four days a week, some train five, some of the even younger ones will train six days. And we've had a couple of athletes that will train doubles, and what that means is that they're training morning and afternoon. And we split the session up. But a typical day would be, it's a two-hour training session. There's typically depending on the day of the week and where we are in the program in terms of competition cycle. We'll be emphasizing on generally one primary lift, either snatch or clean and jerk. There's different variations of those, it could be a power snatch, it could be a full snatch, muscle snatch, or what have you. And then we'll generally move into after we go through our classic lift or primary lift, there's a certain amount of technique training or speed training that's involved. And speed training is just that you're trying to teach the athlete to be faster, and that's what takes time, speed is very hard to teach. Some people are naturally gifted with it, and they do very well in the sport. And some people need to develop it. And then obviously, because it's weightlifting, there's a strength component as well. So, we generally finish off with strength movements, pulls, which are similar to deadlift, or squats. And there's different variations of that as well. And the amount of volume that we're, you know, putting towards these athletes generally changes based on where they are within their competition cycles. So, there'll be more volume for an athlete when they're not headed towards competition. And conditioning is a big part of this. You want the athlete to be able to take on, you know, as much of work as possible, or work capacity, so that they can actually, you know, train at higher levels, so that you can build their strength up, and then you taper them off in time for competition.

Janelle: So, they have a very rigorous training regimen. How do they recover?

Robert: Athlete's recovery is... I've taken a lot of the principles that I've learned in China and I've applied it towards our athletes in summer, some of which I've found were great and some, you know, not so much. So, my first exposure, you know, in a Chinese weightlifting hall, there was a team doctor. And the team doctor, I'm like, "Oh, this is very interesting, there's a doctor." And, you know, not a doctor in the traditional sense of western medicine. You know, they were doing a lot of acupuncture, a lot of myofascial release, you know, different types of stretches in order to, you know, keep the athlete mobile. I even had some, you know, that doctor do a little work on my shoulder on my first visit. And, you know, honestly, with amazing results. But the biggest thing that we're doing in our gym, you know, post-training is that myofascial release. So, we're doing a lot of tempering, people are walking on each other's backs, you know, we're trying to keep everybody as loose as possible post-training, so that they're not tensing up and, you know, going home and it's, you know, tight position. And this is where they start losing flexibility. We want them to be ready for the next session. For some of the older athletes, and this is, sort of, you know, against what Chinese principles teaches, I feel ice or ice baths or even cryotherapy is ideal. What we found in China is they generally shy away from anything cold. Heat is always, you know, ideal. And then sauna is also a huge component for any athlete in the sport. Specifically more as they get closer to competition.

Janelle: And how often are they having to compete in Olympic weightlifting in a non-COVID-19 world?

Robert: Yeah, for sure. So, you know, a lot of our athletes... When we get athletes in, and they're brand new to the sport, we generally push them into what we call a mock meet very quickly, and that's to really, kinda, get the butterflies out of the stomach, get them exposed to the sport. And really what the sport is at the end of the day, it is 99% training, but there is a competitive aspect to it. And it's important that you participate in that because that's where one is going to learn, you know, that's where they're going to learn, you know, the most about what they've taken on as an athlete up to that point. That's where all the deficiencies come out. That's where everything is exposed. You know, maybe it's, you know, nerves on the platform, maybe, you know, they have a hard time pulling. Maybe they have a hard time keeping the bar close. But that's where, like, all the truths come out. So, within the first two months of an athlete joining Austin Barbell, new or not, we generally push them out to competition. And that'll be a non-sanction meet, it's internal. So, you're lifting in front of your teammates, and it's a good time, and people have a lot of fun with it. For my athletes that are more seasoned, we generally target two to three competitions per year. And then generally... What generally determines that is, you know, do they have any longer-term goals? Like, I've got one athlete that's trying to make the world master team, in order for her to do that, she's got to hit specific events leading up to that. So, she'll compete more than two times this year. She'll probably compete four. And for some athletes, that's fine, for some other athletes, you know, twice a year is more than accommodating. The younger athletes can definitely do more, the older athletes need to train and prepare a little differently. And, you know, we take that into consideration as well when you're over the age of 35.

Janelle: Yeah. So, what are your athletes doing right now to adapt their training schedules with the statewide COVID-19 lockdowns?

Robert: Yeah. So, it's been a bit of a challenge. We've kept programming going for our athletes, and nothing's changed there. We did adapt a little bit based on there was a slight break in training, you know, while we tried to figure out what to do. We actually lend out all the equipment from the gym to all of our athletes so that they can continue training at home. And we're doing Zoom sessions, you know, similar to Skype or WebEx, these Zoom sessions are quite good. And to be honest, as a coach, you know, I've now got a screen in front of me, and I've got, you know, I can watch, you know, 8 to 10 athletes train at the same time, versus when you're in a training hall and basically walking up and down that hall trying to, you know, capture as much as possible and add feedback where necessary. So, it's... I'm basically able to see everything at the same time versus only one or two athletes at the same time. So, there is an advantage to, you know, remote training. The disadvantages for me, generally, in team training within our training hall, I do 10,000 steps. And now I'm only putting in maybe, you know, 1200 a day and that's just in my home. So, it's been a bit of an adaptive period for athletes, but I am hopeful this will all be over soon. And, you know, they'll be back to training, you know, together again. I think that's the biggest difference for everybody is that the camaraderie is not the same. And a lot of people enjoy that team training environment. And, you know, when you're training solo, it's very taxing, you know, mentally, it's very tough. And I've got to tip my hat to those athletes that, you know, train in the garage by themselves and without a coach, and, you know, it's a very difficult thing to do. You start to get lost in your thoughts. And for some people, that works, and for some, you know, it's difficult to get through.

Janelle: Yeah. No, I know what you mean. My nine-year-old son, he takes a Hapkido martial arts class, and they've been sending me emails that he can now do it on Zoom. And at first, he had no interest. He's like, he likes to be in the class and show off his skills in front of other people and... But just last week, he's like, "Well, maybe, maybe I'll go ahead and do it." You know. So, it takes an adjustment. But there is that camaraderie of being with other people that you can't mimic online, you know.

Robert: We feel in this, I found this to be true in China as well. One of the big aspects of training is when you go up to the bar and you're lifting, you know, 90% or higher, you have your team cheer you on. And that's a hard thing to do when you're over a Zoom session. When you're in the training hall, and your teammates are, you know, cheering you on and motivating you. And there is a motivational factor for everybody cheering you on before you lift something heavy. You know, it really fuels you at the end of the day. And when you're in a garage by yourself, and especially, you know, most these garages aren't temperature controlled, so it's quite hot. It can be demoralizing at times.

Janelle: Yeah. And hey, as far as getting all your steps in, you can just put your screens in front of, like, a treadmill or something.

Robert: That's a great idea. I haven't thought of that.

Janelle: Well, let's see. Now, I wanted to ask you, what are some things that you might say to an athlete as they're in the staging area, getting ready to go out on stage, you know, knowing they just have a second to showcase their best, you know?

Robert: Sure, sure. So, it sort of all depends on the situation. So, if that athlete went out, and they've already made their first lift, great, you know, that's a moment where, you know, there's a sigh of relief, you know, we don't have to put the, you know, there's less pressure on the athlete. Because it's a bit of a strategy when they go out there. It's sort of like a chess game. You know, generally, there's one or two athletes that are very close in terms of competitive numbers to the athlete that you're putting out there. And it's your job as the coach to, you know, build a strategy, try to figure out a way to, you know, either push the other athletes out quicker or sooner when they're unprepared because remember, you only have a minute to two minutes to prepare for a lift. And if you're, you know, you got to time it right. And if you're... That athletes not timed correctly, they're gonna go out and miss that lift, either because they're not mentally prepared, or they're just not physically prepared. So, things that I'm telling my athlete, you know, and I use this quite a bit, I tell them they're monsters. I don't know why. I started doing this, you know, a number of years ago, and I tell them they're monsters. I'm generally, you know, either massaging their calves or slapping them in the back. And my coach who is Russian or Belarusian, he would sort of slap you in the ear, the ear lobes, and you get this ringing effect in your eardrums. There's this whole ritual of things that coaches do. And they're all at the end of the day, it's a motivational distraction. So, you want to distract the athlete from everything that's around them, and just go out and perform. One of the things that I don't like is when the athletes are listening to, you know, they got their big headphones on and they're, you know, in the music and then they want to go out there. What I find is as soon as you take those ear pods off or, you know, big headphones, they tend... it's like a moment of shock. You know, because you go from this music environment to like silence.

So, we just generally just try to motivate the athletes, get them pumped up to go. You know, I give them a couple cues on things that they can, you know, do if I see any sort of deficiencies in the back room while they're warming up. Maybe they're not keeping the bar as close as they should, maybe they need to be more explosive, you know, as a connect to the hip. And, you know, I'll give them only one or two things. I'm not gonna walk them through a litany of, you know, instruction as they only have one second to perform, you know, a lift. Keep it simple. That's, sort of, like how we operate here.

Janelle: Yeah. And then overall, like, how would you say that you're encouraging your athletes to stay in the game, which is our podcast theme?

Robert: So, the most important thing with Olympic weightlifting, it is a very difficult sport. And I can't say firsthand if it's the most difficult sport out there. But in my opinion, it is. So, you know, all the coaches that I've worked with, all my mentors, you know, it's a sport where as soon as you hit a milestone or you get to that next plateau, it gets incrementally harder, it never gets easier, because the weight always goes up. It's always relative to the athlete. So, the most important thing is basically show up for training. You know, never make that excuse. So, as long as you're showing up for training, you've got half of, you know, this... what's the best way to put it, half of, you know, the task is already done. So, as long as you're showing up for training, and you're moving the bar, at least you're getting reps. Hopefully, they're quality reps. But the most important thing is, you need to be present, you can't miss training. It is a program, and just like anything, you're being programmed to do something. So, you have an instruction set, you put it into, you perform this, and you hope to get a certain output. So, as long as they're showing up to training, that's the first thing.

So, in order to stay in the game, there's a lot of athletes, I've got a lot of athletes that are younger, I've got a lot of athletes that are older who have adult problems, I tend to find that, you know, I'm also... I wouldn't call myself a life coach, but I'm definitely, you know, trying to work people through their problems to keep them on the platform. And I find that, you know, really just, you know, being human about it and not, you know, not trying to be, you know, that tough football coach that doesn't give it, you know, doesn't really care about their athletes as long as they perform, it doesn't work in this sport. You have to be compassionate, you have to be understanding, you have to be flexible. And, you know, I find that, sort of, one of the things that, you know, myself and the coaches that work for me, you know, excel at, is, you know, we're very accommodating for athletes. Ultimately, at the end of the day, this is not a Chinese sports school. This is not a Soviet sports school. This is not Bulgaria. You know, we do have goals for our athletes, we want them to perform, you know, and the goals that we have for athletes, those are our athletes' goals, we're just pushing them towards where they want to be, you know. We want to be there with them. But at the end of the day, these are the goals they set for themselves. So, we're trying to hold them to it, you know, make them accountable at the end of the day. So, you know, if this was a Soviet sports school, you know, if you don't make your numbers, you're out. I mean, it's a different training mindset. And, you know, this is a western voluntary sport. You know, all of our Olympic athletes in this country, basically do it because they love the sport and they want to be a part of it. Where in other countries, it's, sort of, you know, they're chosen at birth, so to speak, based on, you know, their genetics or whatnot, and they have no choice. So, you know, we try to be as empathetic as possible, and really just try to hold our athletes accountable to their goals.

Janelle: Yeah. So, what are, like, some qualities you look for in an athlete? Like, if somebody's trying to decide if this is their sport, you know, what can they look for in themselves even?

Robert: So, you know, one of the things that whenever I hold a seminar or a clinic, or I get new athletes in for what we call foundations training, which is a one on one course between, you know, an athlete and a coach, is that we always ask the athlete, you know, can you dance? You know, are you a good dancer? Because rhythm is a big part of this. So, if you don't, if you're very stiff and rigid, it'll be very hard to move a barbell. Performing a snatch is a very graceful thing. It's elegant, it's beautiful. And I would say if you have a hard time, you know, relaxing, and, sort of, just like going with the flow, it's gonna be very difficult. Obviously, body type does play in to, you know, some, you know, element to this, but, you know, at the end of the day, you know, we're willing to work with all athletes that are motivated. And, you know, that doesn't really, you know, if they're out of shape in a certain way, or they have poor flexibility, I'll definitely call them out on it and say, you know, "We need to work on these things before we start putting a barbell above your head." But mentally, I think, you know, I'm looking for folks that are motivated, I don't care about the age. I'm looking for athletes that, you know, will listen to instruction. I like athletes that ask questions, you know, an athlete that asks questions is definitely, you know, going to understand why they're doing something, just not go out and do it because they were told to do it. In my mind, you know, I'd like to develop coaches, and, you know, if you can develop a coach or teach somebody to coach, they're going to become a better athlete.

Janelle: So, in their training, are they helping the younger athletes? Because you said you have all different ages, are they working together at the same time?

Robert: So, the way training is organized is, I generally put a stronger athlete with a weaker athlete or a more experienced athlete with a less experienced athlete. And we generally see, you know, these pairings. They, sort of, become like brothers in arms, or sisters in arms, depending on, you know, who's training. But there's a lot of accountability on the platform itself. So, and this is also true to the way it works in China. And what effectively happens is you have a senior athlete on a platform working with a junior member. And that always helps out because there are always questions where the coach just can't answer, you know, it could be about how to load the bar correctly, it could be about the movement, because, you know, at the end of the day, there's thousands of different ways to explain the same thing. And, you know, it sometimes it takes an interpreter in order to, you know, make it correct. But, yeah, we definitely see, you know, the more experienced or the older athletes helping the younger ones. You know, we run with a very low coach to athlete ratio. Our training hall has eight platforms in our south training hall. And of that, we can put about two, sometimes three athletes per platform. And I try to have no more than, you know, five to six athletes per coach. So, this is a pretty good ratio where everybody's getting attention. And, you know, it just seems to be the magic number for us. When you have 15 athletes and 1 coach, it's chaotic, it's too difficult. So, there's just not enough attention to detail.

Janelle: Yeah. Now, I agree that that philosophy of having the older ones teach the younger ones not only helps the younger ones, but it helps themselves to solidify in their minds, what they're trying to learn as well, you know.

Robert: There's always situations where a more senior athlete will come to me and they'll say, "Hey, you know, I think this might work better." And I'm always open to hear that sort of feedback. You know, my training was somewhat different than, you know, to how everybody is training in this hall, you know. I didn't train in a big training hall. I did for a period of time, but it was more, you know, of a private setting where, you know, I always aspired or wanted to train with, you know, a bunch of athletes. So, you know, I've had an opportunity to bring in some phenomenal coaches, and, you know, I sort of wish... I'm sort of envious. I wish I would've had a chance to train with all these coaches. Because think about, you know, the amount of, like, you know, the amount of development that could have taken place with, you know, all these differing opinions. I got a coach from... One of my coaches is from Honduras. And he was on the national team. Amazing guy, but his perspective on coaching is completely different than that of the Chinese or that of the Russians. One of my coaches, I brought him in and he coaches for me now. And he's a Belarusian Olympian, and amazing coach, great philosophy. But again, very different. So, when you take all these different, you know, styles, you can really pull out the best pieces and apply it towards the athlete. And that's where I think, you know, we do things a little bit different, versus just only one style, we're taking many and making it work.

Janelle: Yeah, I love that. Well, hey, this has been a really great discussion. I'm excited to share this podcast with other people. And give me some ways that people can get in touch with you if they have more questions.

Robert: Sure. So, you can reach me at You can also go to We do clinics. We do online programming. And we also have a Chinese weightlifting equipment store. So, if you're looking for those hard to find items from China, we stock those.

Janelle: Okay. Great. Well, I'll put links on our show notes page to that and we can direct people to find you. And we just appreciate your time, and we're excited to share this with other people and help them see the benefits of the Olympic weightlifting program. So, thanks for coming.

Robert: Thanks, Janelle, really enjoyed it.

Janelle: And thanks to all our listeners for joining us today. To learn more from Robert Ronan, visit us at We will post show notes, a transcript, and links to connect with him. And if you liked what you heard today, be sure to click the subscribe button. Leave us a comment and rate us on iTunes, YouTube, or wherever you like to listen. By doing this, more people will have a chance to hear what our amazing guests have to share. Until next time.