Greg Everett wears many hats. He’s the owner and program director of Catalyst Athletics, a gym in Sunnyvale, California. He is the editor-in-chief of the Performance Menu: Journal of Health and Athletic Excellence. And he’s the author of what’s been called ‘the best book available on Olympic weightlifting‘, Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches.
Following Scott’s lead, I asked Greg 10 questions to dig below the surface.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up and how did you develop an interest in Olylifting?
I grew up in the southwest San Francisco Bay Area, which is were my gym is now. I learned the lifts in high school, although not well by any means. I didn’t have any real guidance or exposure to actual weightlifters, so to me at that point, they were just some other barbell exercises that I didn’t use much.
As soon as I could afford it, which was maybe 15 years old, I bought a power rack, a real bar and as many plates as I could for my garage to upgrade from the junk weights I’d be using for the previous few years. That went with me when I moved to Arizona, Chico and southern California. I still have the rack and plates – not sure what happened to the bar.
So I was always lifting weights, but not weightlifting. I wish I had better exposure to the sport at an earlier age. When I was in Chico, I was given a partnership in NorCal Strength & Conditioning. Finally I had access to bumpers and bars that actually spun a little, and immediately weightlifting became my primary interest although I was still doing conditioning work and training BJJ. Eventually I quit doing anything but lifting.
Shortly thereafter I sold my house, sold my third of the gym to my two partners, and moved to southern California to lift with Mike Burgener. I wanted to take some time without the responsibilities of gym ownership, without having to spend the entire day training clients, and just have a chance to train myself. It was the best decision I’ve made. I was able to be coached by one of the best out there and be in an environment of serious lifters. Burgener’s gym is just a two-car garage at his house with four platforms smashed together, a lot of bars and weights, and a lot of love for the sport. I continued training private clients in the garage and coaching lifters with Burgener, learning as much as I could.
2. When did you decide to focus on coaching instead of just lifting?
Pretty much from day one. I’ve never been anything more than mediocre as a lifter, and I’ve always put myself in a position to prioritize others’ lifting over my own. I don’t mean that to say I’m extraordinarily selfless and charitable; I’ve just recognized that I can do more as a coach than an athlete. I derive enough satisfaction with my own training whether or not I’m competing, so it’s not much of an issue. Fortunately, I think not being a great lifter has made me a better coach because I’ve had to get creative and think my way through progress.
3. Tell us about the Catalyst Athletics WODs (workouts of the day).
First, I want to acknowledge the shortcomings of an online training program: I can’t program specifically for any of the participants, although I do keep an eye on comments and try to adjust accordingly. There are a number of things I do in that program that are specific to this essentially unknown group of athletes based on assumptions I’ve made about them and their needs. So far it seems to work well – we get a lot of comments and emails about peoples’ success.
CrossFit had a daily conditioning workout posted; Mike Burgener had a daily weightlifting workout posted. I just happened to be in a position that people contacted me a lot about combining lifting and conditioning. I initially didn’t want to post a daily workout because of the problems inherent with such a thing, but there was enough of a demand and I like programming so I figured I would do it. So the point is that it filled the gap in the existing workouts and provided what is basically a weightlifting program that accommodates a bit of conditioning work for people who want to get stronger, improve their Olympic lifts, and not turn into fat slobs.
4. In addition to being certified as a USAW coach you’re also an RKC Kettlebell instructor and of course an NSCA CSCS. Why did you decide to focus primarily on Olylifting?
Weightlifting is the only thing that keeps my interest as a coach and an athlete. In terms of training in general, I like pretty much everything out there, and I like using as many tools as possible. I like interacting with all the different people and learning what they have to teach. It doesn’t mean I’m going to do exactly what they do the way they do it, but there’s no one you can’t learn something from, even if it’s what not to do. With regard to actual certifications, I’ve had all kinds, but they don’t mean much. The only ones I maintain are the USAW and CSCS. I don’t pursue higher USAW certs because I have no compelling reason to. I’d rather stay in my own gym, coach, train and work – having a different classification on my USAW card doesn’t affect what I do, and I have no interest in coaching international teams, so it doesn’t matter.
5. Do you think Olylifting is for everybody?
I think weightlifting should be accessible to everyone, but that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate, beneficial or necessary for everyone. If it’s not done well, there are definitely unnecessary injury risks, and that’s my biggest concern with the growing popularity of the lifts not matched by growing numbers of competent coaches. In other words, the more people doing the lifts improperly, the greater number of them who will get hurt, and the more we will start hearing that weightlifting causes injury.
6. There are a lot of people out there who call themselves Olylifting coaches having never competed or attended training beyond a one-day seminar. Where do you think coaches are missing the boat?
Part of the problem is trying to equate coaching ability with certifications. The two are pretty much unrelated. Some of the best coaches out there have no formal education or certification at all; others have graduate degrees and a wall full of certifications. You just can’t tell from that.
Another part of the problem is that there are multiple facets of weightlifting coaching that are independent of each other. Technical coaching, programming and meet coaching are the three big ones. You can be great at teaching people how to perform the lifts and helping them refine their abilities, and have no idea how to structure their training for long term progress. You can be successful with programming, but be terrible at coaching lifters at meets. The three really have nothing to do with each other. So if someone has success at one, they may develop an unrealistic sense of accomplishment.
The key in my opinion for any coach of anything is gym and competition experience. You can read books and articles and watch DVDs, but there are so many pieces that are only possible to assimilate within the training and competition environment. A seminar, no matter how long or how good, is not the same as training in a gym full of competitive weightlifters, and there is no substitute for that experience.
What I think is really happening is that peoples’ sense of what’s good or not is completely relative. If you’re a trainer who never ventures out of his or her own community, you’re never exposed to those who would be considered true experts in a given discipline. You might fare pretty well against others in your community, and as a consequence think you’re doing well, or even be regarded within that community as being an expert. The reality is usually pretty stunning to these folks when they’re finally exposed to it. When you’re alone in an exclusive group of trainers, coaches and athletes, it’s impossible to imagine what’s out there, and so it’s difficult to gauge your ability. Of course, even with that being the case, it’s probably not a good idea to pitch yourself as an expert when you have no genuine experience in the discipline in question.
7. Tell us about your book.
My intention was to write the book that I wanted when I was learning to lift. I was disappointed with what was out there because I felt none of the existing books covered everything necessary – some were extremely basic and might get you started with rudimentary snatching and clean & jerking, but then there was a huge gap between those books and the more advanced ones, like Charniga’s translations, which aren’t really helpful or practical to anyone other than established coaches. I don’t at all mean to insult any of those authors, but that’s what I saw.
I wanted to put out a book that would allow someone new to the lifts and the sport to learn or teach the lifts, learn how to program training, learn how a meet runs, learn how to gain the flexibility they were lacking, etc. There’s nothing like that out there, so I made it, and it’s been very successful.
8. How would you describe your training philosophy?
I’m not sure how I would describe it other than to say I’m willing to do whatever works. I’m not intransigent with regard to exercises or programming. I try to learn as much as possible from as many sources as possible, and give everything its due consideration before making a judgment.
9. What about your coaching philosophy?
I suppose it’s essentially the same as my training philosophy – whatever works. All I care about is making my lifters better and helping other coaches and athletes improve, not proving that some way is better than another. If I find out that wearing a singlet printed to look like cutoff denim overalls and doing elastic band curls will increase their totals, I’ll make all my lifters to do it.
I keep a very casual atmosphere in my gym. We have fun. But everyone knows when it’s time to shut up and be serious. I don’t have to command anyone. I will yell at an athlete if they need it, but I’m typically not that intense because I don’t find it effective with many people.
10. Can you describe your own training regimen right now?
I end up using myself for experimentation much of the time, so my training cycles tend to look very different from each other. I’m more conservative with my lifters – any experimentation I do with their programming is well inside the realm of reasonable, and I have to be very confident it will work. With my own training, I’m willing to take bigger risks – if it doesn’t work as intended, it really doesn’t matter, because I don’t have a meet coming up and no one really knows anyway. At the moment I’m doing a lot of squatting and strength work in general with less emphasis on the classic lifts. I always train 5-6 days a week, usually about 2 hours each session if I keep myself moving – if I had no time restrictions, I’d probably end up training for 5 hours at a time. I did a couple of squat-emphasis cycles before this as well. I unintentionally lost a bit of weight late last year and I’m still working my way back to full-grown (105kg) with a focus on leg strength, which has always been my weakest point. Over 12 weeks I’ll move gradually into more classic lift emphasis. What I do after that will depend on how I’m lifting and feeling. It will also depend on my work and travel schedule. I’ll be in Copenhagen, Toronto and Dublin all in the next two months, and traveling and giving seminars really takes the starch out of my britches, so I do my best to time my training cycles around that stuff. I do my best to make myself bring up my weaknesses, which means that my training isn’t always comprised of my favorite things, but I love training in general, so I always enjoy it.
For more information check out Catalyst Athletics and Performance Menu, or pick up Greg’s book Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches.