Coach Don McCauley

CrossFit/USAW Open

Coach Don McCauley on the CrossFit/USAW Open

McCauley's athletes will compete in the upcoming event

Coach Don McCauley is a USAW regional coach in Savannah, Georgia with numerous accolades in the sport and many successful lifters under his direction. He is also a certified CrossFit Level 1 coach and has incorporated CrossFit into the GPP practices of his athletes. Coach McCauley will be testing his athletes at the upcoming CrossFit/USAW Open. We sent him some questions about the event's implications for the sport of weightlifting, the sport of CrossFit and the communities of both.

Hi Coach, thanks for Taking the time. What were your initial reactions when the CrossFit/USAW event was announced? What do you think are the implications of the event for both sports. 
I was thrilled when Rick Adams announced that there was going to be a USAW/CrossFit competition. This is the meeting of athletes who are in love with lifting weights, moving fast and doing complicated athletic feats. What could be more natural. Olympic Weightlifting happens to be a very specific sport and CrossFit happens to be a more generalized form of physical conditioning but both groups admire physical excellence and mental toughness. For Crossfitters, this competition is a chance to see and compete with some Olympic Weightlifters who are very good at their specific sport. For Olympic weightlifters it is a chance to see and compete with some CrossFitters who are very good at their various skills. And, both will compete their asses off. The competition should give both groups more publicity and for Olympic Weightlifting, it may be one doorway back into the consciousness of the sports world of athletes and fans in this country.  I'm looking forward to it.

I know that you have been a part of the CrossFit Community for some time, but give us your brief history. How did you come to find CrossFit? 
 I was introduced to CrossFit by my Olympic Weightlifting colleague, Mike Burgener. He told me what a great organization it was and how the athletes doing really respected the Olympic lfits and those who competed in our sport and coached it. I have not been disappointed. To me, it is the best conditioning program in existence. And, it has promoted a healthy lifestyle, unlike some of the fly-by-night programs that seem to pop up in this country from time to time. 

Can we talk numbers. How many athletes do you have competing? What weight classes will they be competing in? What are their numbers? Do you think that they will be competitive in the CrossFit triplet as well or will they need to establish a strong gap with their lifts? 
 Right now, I have two athletes competing and I will be helping out one or two more friends during the contest. I have a friend competing in the 69's, Josh Beckler in the 77's (~105/135kgs)and Tina Carson in the 53's (~62/85kgs), if she doesn't have to finish moving down furniture from Missouri with her husband. Josh has been doing CrossFit workouts for conditioning for a while and Tina, of course, came from a CrossFit background. She's a Level 1 Coach and very quick. I hope she can make it. I believe both will be very competitive. Josh will have to get away in the O. contest but he bought his own jump rope and has been really working on double-unders.
(As this post went to press, we are informed that Tina Carson will not make the competition, due to prior obligations). 

You are a very accomplished coach with a solid background. Can you talk about your history with the sport, and your achievements.
I started out in Olympic Weightlifting as a competitor in the mid 70's. I had been a long distance runner but came down with asthma and a friend of mine got me to come with him to learn O. lifting because he was tired of seeing me mope around. I wasn't a very good lifter (~ 80/112 as a 67kg) but I had a great time lifting with a great guy named Harold Bailey up in Rhode Island. After about five years, I had controlled my asthma to the extent that I could get back to running, which was my first sports love. 

A friend of mine from running was the Track and Field head coach at a local high school and knew I had competed in Olympic Weightlifting. He urged me to teach myself the throwing events, which he said were only an extension of lifting, and join him as an assistant coach.  I ended up doing that for about 16 years. During that time, I got back to coaching Olympic Weightlifting on the side and had a very small club with the person who got me into lifting, Tom Marchand. We had two women make the American Open level then and later, in the early '90's had a couple of guys make the Sr. Nationals, which wasn't bad considering we only had about 5 or 6 lifters total.

Tom Marchand found Suzanne Leathers, who was a volunteer in a weightlifting/diet study being done by a former lifter of his. She had no weightlifting background, was 20 years old but had obvious innate power. She eventually made several Sr. Nationals, two Sr World teams and Pan-Ams and was 1st alternate at the 2000 Olympics. Her best competitive lifts at 75kgs. were 100/120. I married Suzanne at the 2000 Olympics.

In 1999, we moved to Savannah, Georgia and Suzanne lifted for Team Savannah for several years. I worked there as a coach until I left in '06 and formed Coastal Empire Weightlifting. Cheryl Haworth, Anthony Martin, Michael Martin, Suzanne,  Master lifter Theresa Maldanado and several others were the foundation of that team. Cheryl, of course, had won a Bronze medal at the 2000 Olympics and had made the '04 team as well. I hadn't coached her then but she, as others, chose to join our team when we formed it.  Cheryl, splitting her time between Savannah and the OTC in Colorado Springs, qualified for the 2008 Olympics as well. Anthony Martin, after a hiatus of several years  from lifting made a Sr. World team and a Pan-Am team after he joined us.  Mike Martin, who came back to lifting after 7 years retirement, has returned to national championship form. And, my wife, Suzanne, has recently returned to lifting and immediately became a Sr. Nationals qualifier along with Tina Carson, a CrossFitter who moved down here from Missouri to lift with me. Last summer and this year as well, Holley Mangold, an up and coming +75 lifter, has been sent down to Savannah  from Ohio by her coach, Dan Bell, to work with me. I have great hopes for her in the future and she will be living at the OTC by the time we have the USAW/CrossFit competition in Colorado Springs.

How do you incorporate CrossFit with your athletes? Are your competitive Oly lifters also doing conditioning with CrossFit protocols? Can we dig into that, what would it look like (How often does it fit in and how does it supplement your program).
I use modified CrossFit workouts with my Olympic lifters two to three times per week at times during the year. The variation in work type and muscle use is something I believe many Olympic lifters in this country lack mainly because of a lack of proper physical education programs in schools and limited play time when they were kids. The fact is that in my childhood, many, many, many years ago, kids played outside until they were forced to go home. It was sort of unorganized CrossFit. LOL.  However, we ended up with a lot of basic skills that kids today don't have, unless they are CrossFit kids. And, by the way, that may be my favorite CrossFit program. 

You have your lifters incorporating your "Catapult" method which has some key differences to the "triple-extension" that most CrossFitters are more intimate with. Can you talk about the method?
 A lot has been made of my use of the word "catapult" to describe the pull used in the Olympic lifts. Catapulting does not describe something new but simply is what I think is a better way to think of the motion involved in driving the bar upwards. I believe a lifter should stay on the platform longer when pulling and return to it sooner when catching than some coaches. Some athletes can perform the lifts perfectly well without leaving the floor whatsoever. I have athletes train like this at times to make them better aware of the hip extension portion of the lift. And, I believe that in the last phase of triple extension, if it is used at all, weightlifters do different things than other athletes do when they enter that same phase performing their sport skills. In jumping sports, for instance, the athlete moves his own mass further upward through the entire last phase of triple extension. In throwing, such as discus, the athlete continues to deliver force to the implement to sling its mass away from his during the entire last phase. I think in weightlifting we should make a conscious effort not to continue through the last phase of triple extension with the intention of delivering force to the bar to move it upwards but at some earlier point turn our efforts towards pulling ourselves lower than the soon to be falling barbell. This is what I teach.

It is important to remember that while there may be differing opinions about the nuances of technique for the olympic-style lifts, just as there are about batting in baseball or catching a football properly, the important thing is to make them part of your athletic skill set.  They are an important part of a complete athlete.

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4 comments on this entry

1. Mark Lee CrossFit Cape Cod wrote...

We had Coach McCauley to our affiliate a month ago along with Holly, Tina and Suzanne-They were great and had everyone executing the movements within no time!

2. Kyle wrote...

the catapult method and crossfit = perfect match

3. Larry Cook wrote...

I visited Don this past March while vacationing in Hilton Head, SC. He's a class guy with some solid lifters.

4. Brian Smith wrote...

for those of you who haven't seen it yet, Don has a pretty informative video series on youtube regarding the "catapult' lifting technique. Worth a watch.


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