Weightlifting Tips from the Master

Our new cycle of programming has the 405 athletes doing a lot more rowing and slightly less lifting, which undoubtedly has a few CrossFitters feeling a bit nostalgic about the days of 30-minute strength sessions. In honor of our weightlifting love, we’re sharing a Q&A with the weightlifting master, Steve Miller. Read part one of his interview here, where we learned about his amazing history with martial arts.

A young woman performing an olympic weightlifting movement.

How​ ​did​ ​Steve​ ​Miller​ ​find​ ​CrossFit​ ​405?

Steve Miller started his coaching for CrossFit boxes at CrossFit Koda, after the owner, Bryce, approached him about teaching a weightlifting class for his athletes. Shortly after, Miller met Aaron O’Neil (CrossFit 405’s owner) and gave Aaron his card. Aaron called Steve, and now the members at CrossFit 405 and CrossFit 405 South have an amazing resource and connection for all our weightlifting desires.

“We’ve become really good friends,” Miller said of Aaron. “He’s let me come up and train people at his gym, been extremely generous, making all the connections.”

How​ ​did​ ​you​ ​become​ ​interested​ ​in​ ​helping​ ​CrossFitters?

Miller said he’d heard stories from some weightlifters who started CrossFit and said that they noticed many athletes with horrible form when it came to the Olympic lifts.

“Some said they don’t even really like to watch CrossFitters lift,” Miller said. “So that was one of my goals, to get CrossFit weightlifting up to a level where it was safe.”

A young man performing an olympic weightlifting movement.

Who​ ​typically​ ​attends​ ​weightlifting​ ​classes​ ​at​ ​CrossFit​ ​405?

Miller said he’s noticed a slight drop-off in attendance at his weightlifting classes, but he attributes that partly to the athletes’ ability to pick up on his techniques.

“Most of the CrossFitters that come are type-A personalities, and they absorb my information very quickly,” Miller said. “I also have a lot of them that come here [to USA Stars facebook page], and I help with their weightlifting.”

That’s not to say that you should take one class and assume your weightlifting technique has piqued—we all get stuck in our bad habits occasionally, and sometimes all it takes is a fresh set of eyes—be it one of our coaches at 405 or a visit with Steve—to get us out of the rut.

A man performing an olympic weightlifting movement.

What​ ​does​ ​a​ ​typical​ ​weightlifting​ ​seminar​ ​look​ ​like?

Miller said he starts each weightlifting class at CrossFit 405 by asking all the attendees what they want to work on that day. From there, he assesses what they need as they practice their lifts. Don’t worry about setting any PRs during a seminar—Miller’s classes are intended as a chance for the athletes to improve their form, not as a standard strength-training session.

“I can train ten to twelve people at the same time,” he said. “Mainly, it’s technique work, but after they improve their form, we focus on developing strength and power.”

What​ ​recommendations​ ​would​ ​you​ ​give​ ​to​ ​a​ ​competitor​ ​choosing​ ​between​ ​Weightlifting and​ ​CrossFit?

“I would look at the person and their genetics—if they’re tall and they have poor anatomical leverage, I would tell them to do Weightlifting for fun, focus more on CrossFit if they want to be competitive. But if I saw someone in CrossFit who had trouble with endurance, and they were short, they should look at competing in Weightlifting—but the most important thing is to have fun.”

A woman performing an olympic weightlifting movement.

What’s​ ​the​ ​difference​ ​in​ ​Weightlifting​ ​for​ ​men​ ​and​ ​women?

“When I first started, men weren’t accepting women into Weightlifting. I don’t know what the reason was. I think it was just so established that it was a ‘male sport.’”

But Miller said that changed once women had their first World Championships for Olympic Weightlifting in the 80s. After that, he said, athletes and spectators had the chance to see the kind of female athletes attracted to Weightlifting—and they were amazing.

“I believe the females are much tougher than the men,” Miller said. “You’ll ask them to do things, and the women will attack it, whereas the men will be hesitant. And the other thing about women is that they don’t have the same strength to lift heavy weights—muscles in the arms, whatever. They have to use technique. So when you teach a woman, they pick it up quickly—men will always try to muscle it up—and it’s a lot, lot harder to teach those guys.”

Miller noted that women also have another genetic advantage when it comes to weightlifting technique. “Because women are so subtle with their hips and lower body, they focus on the area they’re supposed to be focusing on—their center of gravity,” Miller said. “All your power generates from your center of gravity, which is about two inches below the navel.”

 

Do​ ​you​ ​still​ ​lift​ ​on​ ​a​ ​regular​ ​basis?

“Oh yeah. I’m 66 though, and I’m slowing down. I had my right knee replaced and I’ll be back at it, going harder, after I get the left one.”

 

What​ ​keeps​ ​you​ ​coming​ ​back​ ​and​ ​coaching?

“Working with the kids, the athletes,” he said.

Miller said he enjoys watching his former students succeed as they enter new phases of their lives.

“One kid I trained went into the CIA, he was in Iraq. Another kid became a lieutenant colonel in the air force, another was in Special Forces in the army. Another one got a D1 scholarship at Colorado State.”

He mentioned one student in particular who joined the marines. In the middle of the marine’s intense training, he realized he wasn’t suffering as badly as the other people. Even his superiors noted his resilience and mental toughness. The young marine contacted Miller and told him he attributed his advantage to his time spent training with Miller—all the same principles applied.

His other student who joined the CIA came back to the gym one day and told him, “I can’t tell you where I went. But what you taught me, taught me to be successful.”

Miller said that as they were trying to “break him,” they asked, “Where did you learn this?”, referring to his determination and resilience. And he said, “Weightlifting.”

“It teaches them focus,” Miller said. “How to use their mind, the neuromuscular connection between body and mind, to excel in whatever they do. That goes back to why I do what I do, what keeps me going.”

 

What​ ​are​ ​you​ ​looking​ ​forward​ ​to​ ​in​ ​the​ ​coming​ ​year?

“Getting my other knee replaced, then my shoulders, then my elbows…”

“I don’t have anybody I’m coaching right now who’s competing in weightlifting. I teach USA weighting classes and have taught 9 CrossFit seminars so I’m looking forward to doing that.”

In regard to his time and experience with the Olympic lifts, he had this to say: “At one point, I thought I knew everything about Weightlifting, I had put my time in. It took me ten years to get my technique in for the snatch, and clean and jerk. Then Galabin Boevski, Olympic Gold Medalist and World Champion from Bulgaria, walked into my gym and I realized there was so much more to learn. The bar and weights have to become a part of you. It’s a process.”

 

Any​ ​final​ ​words?

“Aaron’s been very generous to me, so was Bryce, and so was Zack Zuffspan from CrossFit Complete. I believe athletes from their boxes will make the Games one day.”

 

If you want to get in on the weightlifting game, sign up for our next On-Ramp class here!