Our Mission: Return The United States Back To Relevance In Weightlifting

15 Minute Read


I'm not going to do a lot of technique work today. I'm not going do a lot of science talk. I want to tell you guys a story…

If your life’s work can easily be accomplished in your lifetime, you’re probably not thinking big enough.

The first thing we're going to do is we're going to tell you about my journey and about Cal strength. Second thing we're going to do is I want to show you the manifestation of that journey in American Record Holder Wes Kitts. And then thirdly, I want you guys to help me with a goal that I have. So I'm going to have an ask of you at the end.

I was watching Netflix the other night and I was watching a cooking show and there was this quote that kind of stuck out to me and it said something to the effect of, "If your life's work can easily be accomplished in your lifetime, you're probably not thinking big enough".

And so my life's work revolves around bringing the United States back to relevance in this sport of weightlifting. And when I say that, to put it into some context, the last non-boycotted Olympic medal that we’ve won on the men's side in weightlifting happened in 1976. Coming up on 2020 that represents a 48 year drought in medals.


Dave Spitz: (02:01)

When I say that my goal is lofty, that I’m coming out of a 4,000 square foot warehouse in San Ramon, California and my goal is to return the United States to relevance, it's pretty fucking ridiculous.

Participation is the most important part of bringing back this sport. So we look at Track & Field today. Every kid from junior high to high school is exposed to track with every event they're allowed to participate in. We throw so much shit against the wall. Guess what? Some of it's bound to stick. We've got a massive healthy population of individuals. But when I left the sport of track and got into weightlifting, what I saw was a community that was cultish, that was weird, that was closed down. Coaches and weightlifters, they hoarded information and they limited access. And so my first goal in our effort to return this sport to prominence was to democratize information, to make it available and accessible for people to be able to take these lifts that are seemingly complicated and incorporate them into their fitness lives, into their strength and conditioning lives, and then ultimately maybe find the next Wes Kitts.

And so I started doing that with a YouTube channel. And back then I knew I wasn't going to find the next Olympian out of the first traunch of athletes I trained, I was working for inspirational athletes that look good on camera, that had big personalities that were going to be entertaining as well as inspirational. And then we could jab you with some education along the way. In 2008 when I started my YouTube channel and had zero followers, that was the goal. We had to have athletes like Donny Shankle, like James Moser, like Robert Blackwell. Guys that gave their heart and soul to the sport. But were never going win medals on an international stage.

But guess what? They drove inspiration. They drove motivation. They drove awareness. And so we have a guy like Wes Kitts to be able to train now and you're going to see the rate of force production and this athlete move in a minute. It's going to blow your mind. Anybody's ever seen anybody move a barbell is going to have an instant appreciation for what he's capable of doing.


Dave Spitz: (04:26)

When I left high school to go to the university of Southern California, uh, I picked up the hammer throw and in my first year of competing I threw 60.80m, I went to the World Juniors. I was set on becoming a really good athlete. And I had this Olympic dream that went all the way back to the 1988 Games. I was on a Hawaiian vacation, I remember like it was yesterday. 11 years old, I didn't leave the fucking hotel room. I sat and watched every event of the Olympics. So I had the Olympic dream early and I thought that maybe this hammer throw was my, was my vehicle to get there. Well, USC in LA is a little more fun than UNC over here I think. Although I could have fun in a paper bag, but I got distracted. I'll admit it.

I got distracted. I made up excuses. I wasn't accountable for my training and I barely improved over my five years at USC to the point where I didn't even make the Olympic Trials in 2000 and you know what? I said, fuck it. I'm out. I'm going to go get a job. I'm going to go do the things that my USC education has prepared me to do.

So I picked up a job in finance, started in investment banking, helping small companies raise money. Moved out to New York, tried my hand at the big Apple, spent about two years out there working at an investment banking shop and then came back to San Francisco. The Olympic games were an Athens, Greece, 2004 and anyone who's ever had the Olympic dream, that Olympics, I think stirred some emotions in you. I looked at my bank account and it was full.

I had a nice house. I had a hot girlfriend, I had a beautiful Rolex Daytona. I had everything that I thought I needed coming out to USC to make me happy but I was fucking empty inside and it took the 2004 Games for me to realize that, right, you can, you can have a lot of money and feel like a piece of shit. I am living proof of that. So I called my girlfriend, I said, I'm going start training again. I was pretty good at this Olympic lifting stuff in college, probably better than I was a thrower. I'm going to go and find a coach. I'm going to start training. She was like, yeah, dear, whatever. I was a 195 pounds getting up every day going to work. This is the world's greatest bait and switch. There is no question my wife loves me cause she watched me go from driven juggernaut in the world of finance to Olympic weightlifter. The hell is that. I found a coach in South San Francisco. His name was Jim Schmitz. Great guy. We started training. I drove an hour and a half to his gym three days a week. And in the backdrop of that I was volunteering as a throws coach at a local high school.


Dave Spitz: (07:51)

Fate has it, this freak came out to throw for me. He was capable of producing force similar to Wes. And I asked who's mom, who's dad? Dad was a silver medalist in the 1972 Games in the sport of weightlifting. How absurd is that? What kind of coincidence is that? So he wanted me to train his son. He needed me to be there for him. He agreed to train me in the lifts and so he took me up to a pretty good national standard in the lifts and I'm very grateful. But he took me to a point where we were no longer improving and he confided in me that the system that we were using was a Bulgarian system that was used in the early seventies and that the later iterations he didn't have any clue about, and the only way we're going to learn and get better was to fly to Bulgaria and to hook up with Ivan Abadjiev. Abadjiev, if you don't know who he is, he recently passed away. He is the architect of the Bulgarian system.

The Bulgarian system of weightlifting took a country of 8 million people, impoverished, some of the most brutal form of communism that existed in the Eastern block. And they built champions. They built champions that took on the Soviet Union. They built champions that took on all of the other Western European powers at the time. And so I thought, well shit, they didn't have anything. And look what he did there. We don't have anything. We're super resourced. We should definitely bring him over. I convinced him that you got to pack up, move, come to come to California. And what we need to do is train Bulgarian athletes that can show us how to implement this system so we can see it in real time.

So I started a nonprofit called Americanweightlifting.org. I wrote Visa's for all these Bulgarians and I rented a house in Benicia, California and I set up a four car garage as a training hall and we lived, worked, trained every day. It's to say that was an experience would be the understatement of a lifetime. He was weird as shit.

You grow up in communist Bulgaria, you do not escape unscaved. This man got off the plane and immediately booby trapped the entire house. Every gate was set up with some odd booby trap so that the world anti-doping agency and the IWF could not access and penetrate our training hall. We would have some advanced warning of them being there. He gave me a list of supplements when he got off the plane. Handwritten, probably the only English he could really write at the time. I need a little Anavar. I need some Stanozolol and all. I need a little testosterone and some Clenbuterol. Just a little.

Ivan Abadjiev | Benicia, California

Ivan Abadjiev | Benicia, California

When I told him, no, we can't do that here we're playing the game a little different. He requested a goat. The fuck do you want a goat for? Well we need this goat. We need this goat so that we can tie it up in the backyard and we will not feed it. Only water and vitamins. Now. To me I'm thinking what kind of sounds is a goat going to make tied up in a backyard of suburban Benicia, California as it starves for two fucking weeks. Can you imagine the noises coming out of my backyard?

He wanted to produce a hormone response so that we can slaughter the goat and eat that meat that had a hormone response. When I told him no, when I told him no, he went to work and he created his own supplement from herbs, things that he found at the store and when I came down to breakfast one day he handed me this supplement in the glass. It had like a twig and a berry and it was off color. And as I started to take a sip of the supplement, our big Bulgarian super Nikolai Kristoff's slaps it out of my hand, my friend end, never drink. What Uncle gave this to me, this is fine. HE MAKE IN TOILET! He doesn't mix the shit in the toilet, come on, we're all going to get sick. I go upstairs and there's uncle hovering over his toilet bowl mixing supplements in lieu of the goat.


Dave Spitz: (12:38)

Now success may be situational, right? I can't take Vince Lombardi out of the past and plug them into the helm of the Green Bay Packers and expect him to have any success. But when you take somebody with cultural values that are so far from your own and try and plug them into a different time and a different world, evidently hilarity is what ensues. Not success in weightlifting. So I sent him packing. Through the training, you know, the training was hard. I'll give him that. I mean, we trained AM and PM sessions six days a week. It was, it was brutal. I suffered a labrum, I limped into the Olympic Trials that year and bombed out. So between not making Olympic Trials in 2000 and bombing out of the Olympic Trials in 2008, my own career as an athlete was nothing short of disastrous. But I was angry.

It fueled the fire that sent me to thinking about what we need to do if this is truly a goal of mine to bring weightlifting back, what do I got to do? We need to change the dialogue so that fitness enthusiasts, strength coaches, athletes: we're not just doing these lifts, we're doing them with purpose. We're doing them correctly and not just to maximize transference into our sport, but because it's the right thing to do. And I am going to ask you guys as strength coaches, as people that, that are well-respected in your communities, I challenge you to get out there and try and incorporate the lifts into your training. And if you don't, if you already incorporate them, do it better, do it more efficiently. So let's talk briefly about the benefits of the lifts.


Dave Spitz: (14:39)

Let's start with the basics, right? Strength and power. We know that, but power, what does that really mean? If you're teaching somebody the Olympic lifts and you know what you're doing, you're not just teaching them to be explosive. You're teaching them about intermuscular coordination. You're teaching them about sequence of motor unit recruitment, what muscles fire, at what times to produce the greatest amount of force. We know that all force starts proximally and moves distally.

The lifts are a great way to express that and educate the athlete in that. Hip extension is relevant to just about every sport, but beyond intermuscular coordination, we have intramuscular coordination, rate coding and frequency.

Once we have our sequence down, now we can work on being more explosive by producing a more efficient twitch. We have an exercise where we can simultaneously train force production and force absorption, right? For those of you guys that are just using the pull, that's cool, but that's 50% of what the benefit is. Strength, power, force production, force absorption, dynamic flexibility, joint mobility.

How about using this as a tool to train the entire spectrum of strength from speed strength to maximal strength to strength endurance. With some rep and set organizational changes with some intensity adjustments; you can train the entire spectrum of strength, but maybe most importantly, how about courage?

I'll tell you what, you're pulling on a big bar it takes courage to go under. It takes courage to execute your technique when the shit feels heavy. When every self-preservation instinct in your body is telling you don't do this, it takes courage to go underneath and to execute properly and you build up enough courage over time, guess what wins higher confidence. Who doesn't need confidence in their athletes?

We can sell all the equipment on the planet. We can monitor peak velocity and peak power output. This kind of binomial: Make or Miss. Did you accelerate the bar fast enough? Did you get your ass under the bar fast enough at a good enough position to make it? Yes or no?


I'm a big believer in the top down progression. Simplifying movements, giving athletes a roadmap to success, especially who are late stage adopters is critical. If you are in China and you are eight years old and you're picking up the sport of weightlifting, go bottom up. No problem. Chances are you've been selected through a talent ID model to look a certain way, to have certain limb lengths, to be built for your sport. So go bottom up by all means.

If you are an American who is coming off of a football career and 24 years old, we've got to go top down. We've got to simplify this movement, make it digestible.


In the 50's, we used to pack stadiums watching this stuff. This kind of energy you can feel, you can feel the danger, you can feel the power, you can feel this movement. It's a great spectator sport if you're here, right? I mean you all made that lift with Wes. At the end of the day, I really believe that the world needs more zealots. We need people that are passionate about this stuff, right?

I'm a business owner. I'm a strength coach. I'm a thinker. But more than anything, I'm an observer. And I've watched this sport mired in mediocrity for too fucking long. That's our tagline. Fighting The War On Mediocrity. We start producing athletes that Snatch 400 and Clean & Jerk 500 pounds on the platform, it's going to elevate all of our sports. It's also going to elevate our ability to coach athletes because it's going to produce all of this cool technology and all these cool systems as a result of fighting this war. And if I can do it with a clean athlete and I'm not talking to this guy can pass a test right now, I'm talking lifetime clean. Take hair samples, take blood, take whatever you want. Lifetime clean. That's a whole other evolution in our sport.

And it doesn't happen without you guys. We need participation. We need education. We need your help.

Dave Spitz, CSCS, USAW Senior International Coach



Learn more about Olympic weightlifting, Functional Training and Sport Specific Online Programs.