This is a series in which we will attempt to collect, reflect on, and make sense of the great information given to us by the growing number of coaches and athletes we have interviewed on the podcast. You can see the rest of the series here
Travis Mash stands out as being the most frequently featured coach on the Weightlifting House podcast, aside from The People’s Coach, Glenn Pendlay. This is for good reason, because Travis and his team, Mash Mafia, have been climbing the rankings in USA Weightlifting for the last few years, ending up with four athletes on the 2018 Senior World Team. This does not even take into account the number of high level athletes he has on his youth and junior team… Travis’ successes as a coach have led to countless hours of phenomenal content on the podcast. That is exactly why this will be a multi-part series of the Five Things I learned from Travis Mash.
As we do with every coach and athlete we will take this as an opportunity to give a short bio. Travis was a former world-class powerlifter, collegiate football player, and OTC resident for the sport of weightlifting. Yes, that’s right. Travis has done it all. Through his time learning, competing, and teaching these sports he has been able to pick up incredible insight into the physical and psychological preparation of athletes. He has also coached alongside a few of the best coaches in the sport of weightlifting, including Glenn Pendlay and Don McCauley, and has more recently spent time with and been influenced by coaches like Sean Waxman and Spencer Arnold. Armed with his previous experiences as an athlete and his growing expertise as a coach he aims to help American weightlifting rise to and stay at the top. Now let’s dive into the first part in our series.
1 – Lessons from Pyrros Dimas
Pyrros Dimas is one of the greatest weightlifters of all-time. To have him working alongside Team USA is incredible and while this is an article about Travis I cannot neglect the lessons Travis learned from Dimas. There are a few exercises discussed in the podcast which can easily be applied to the appropriate athlete to help them improve their lifting. These exercises are: pulls far away from the body, eccentric hang lifts (in doubles or triples), and open + snatch/clean.
The pulls far away from the body work to target the lower back, increasing the moment arm at the hip/lower back when the bar breaks the floor.
The eccentric hang snatches work to target the back and hips/hamstrings to a greater degree than a regular hang variation and promote more hypertrophy from the eccentric stress of the movement.
The last lift is an open +, which is basically a pull to the knee, return to the floor, and then a full lift. This variation singles out the first pull and allows the athlete to work on navigating the bar from the floor to the knee, minimizing potential complication.
Pyrros’ last word of advice to Travis was to “kill” his athletes. By that he is referring to the amount of work they should be doing far out from a competition. When you are not close to a bigger meet, where you are planning to perform well, get in an adequate amount of work. Athletes can handle a good amount of stress, especially those at the world level, so that stress must be provided for them to adapt and improve.
“You’re actually using the lifts for hypertrophy. No other time, think about it, there is no eccentric somewhere else during the lift, except during the catch, but it’s slight. This is another way to get hypertrophy, increase muscle mass, which is functional to the lifts.”
2 – How to Prepare for Competition/The Backroom
The way to approach competition in the backroom is very individual. If someone has a long wait between attempts in the back it isn’t set in stone what you ought to do, whether it be to take a power, a pull, or another full lift. Bridging from that decision is how much weight should be on the bar for either of those (i.e. heavy pull, moderate power, the same weight or more for another attempt). There are certain strategies to incorporate in training which can help out nearly everyone.
This would include programming in EMOMs and waves up to the meet. The EMOMs allow you to practice taking moderate to maximal attempts under a time crunch and resulting fatigue. The waves allow you to build a similar work capacity to the EMOMs, but practice moving back and forth between lighter and heavier weights.
Of course these approaches are not exclusive and can be combined to fit the athlete and situation. Practicing EMOMs on day one of your plan provides the benefit of preparing for short rests and waves on day five and will prepare the athlete for long breaks. The key is to find what works and provide plenty of opportunity to practice it during training.
“In training we do waves… and then we do EMOMs (every minute on the minute) in case we are getting rushed. So we are prepared no matter what happens, which is not the predicament you want to be in, but it’s not like it’s your first time being in it.”
3 – Putting Weight on the Bar is not the Only Way
Squatting, especially higher volume or intensity loads, can be very fatiguing. An athlete has a limited amount of adaptive resources. If you continue to push the squat and allocate a large majority of those adaptive resources to that lift it will compromise the athlete’s ability to sufficiently perform and load potentially more important movements. If you can develop the squat and maintain it or watch the speed of the bar with the same weights increase over time it will be less detrimental to the other aspects of the program. This means not pushing maximal sets, but accumulating enough volume at manageable weights, which move fast and feel like they could be repeated day after day.
“Which is something that i’m going to definitely keep in mind… I don’t see Hunter or Jordan or anybody maxing their squat for the next 18 months. I think i’ll see them take the same weights they’ve done, but do them faster. That way they leave volume for what’s important, cause it’s snatch and clean and jerk time now.”
4 – It’s Very Difficult to Recover from a Poor First Pull
A reason Travis programs and suggests using the pull to knee variation is because of the importance of a properly performed first pull. The first pull here would be defined as the bar moving from the point of separation to about the first third of the thigh. It is very difficult to recover from a mistake made off of the floor and can lead to serious and lift-deciding downstream effects. Imagine the bar rolls away from you as the bar breaks from the floor, this then pulls the lifter forward and forces radical adjustments to be made if this is going to be a successful attempt. The tighter you can keep the bar to the body and the more vertical the pull, the better you can hold positions with heavier and heavier weight, and the greater your chances of success.
“I think 90% of lifts are missed in the first few inches.”
5 – Weightlifting is About More Than Numbers
So far this series has really been performance focused. Every point discussed includes some aspect of technique, competition, programming, but Travis made a point to break that narrative during the podcast, as will I.
Weightlifting is a sport about numbers and performances, but the impact of the sport on our lives goes far beyond that. We are brought together, able to ignore group differences, such as socioeconomic status, personal interests, and religious beliefs, to create lasting and meaningful relationships. Those relationships reach well beyond our PR total or the medals hanging up on the wall or tossed somewhere in the closet. Speaking from personal experience nearly all of my friendships have been developed through the sport in some way, be it through coaching, competing against, or just being around other athletes. The barriers we all experience, which throughout most of lives prevent us from starting up a conversation, are taken down because of the similar interest in putting weight over our head.
“It’s so much more than just lifting weights. You do something to leave a little bit of good in the world when you’re gone… Who cares about all of the madness?.. Let’s just help each other… I think we could inspire the world.”
There we have it. These are the Five Things I Learned from Travis Mash. As always with Travis you get a lot of great training advice, but also insight into what the sport means to him. We all want bigger totals, more PRs, and continued success. I really hope this series helps each of you achieve or help others achieve those ends, but this sport is more than numbers on a board. The relationships we develop, foster, and reflect on will ultimately be what we appreciate most.