Glenn Pendlay: My Life In Lifts

Glenn Pendlay is a USA Weightlifting Level 5 coach, the highest coaching accreditation available in the US. He’s got a masters degree in kinesiology and a squad of high-level lifters to his credit…oh, and you might have heard of the row variation named after him. Here’s what a life in lifting’s taught him.

Glenn Pendlay is stronger than you. He’s snatched 170 kilos, cleaned 210, and military pressed ‘within 5 or 10lbs of the magic 400.’ But these days, he’s more focused on coaching than anything else – he’s responsible for a cadre of junior and national lifters, many of them record breakers. We asked him how he does it – and what he doesn’t do.

What’s been your proudest ever moment in the gym – or on a platform?
I’d have to say one of my athletes making a sensational lift, because that’s really what it’s all about. I started training with Caleb Ward when he was 13 – he broke the junior record when he was 19 in the clean and jerk with a 203 kilo lift, and that was a huge thing for me. We had a very close relationship, because I coached him from the start. I’ve coached other athletes to American records, but he’d never had another coach, so that was a very proud moment for me.

The other moments would be athletes making the world team or breaking records. Jared Fleming broke the record in the snatch a few years after that, and that was a great moment, because even though he’d been coached by other people before, his snatch had been stuck for four or five years – it just hadn’t moved at all. He was at a very high level already, but then we got it from 150 kilos to 171 – that was huge for me, because if you’ve been stuck at that one level four 4-5 years, to put a 20 kilo increase on in a year and a half is just huge.

The lifter I’ve been most involved with over the years is Donnie Shankle, who I’ve coached for 12 years. He’s broken records in the weight room, but not in a meet – he’s made five world teams, done very well, came very close to the Olympics – I’m extremely proud of him. I think he’s coming back in a month or two to try and get his clean and jerk over 200 again, and I’m proud of that – he’s not going to break records again, but that he has that confidence that I can get him back to a level of performance he had before is huge for me.


What do you wish you’d started doing earlier?
I wish I’d been a better coach, in some ways, earlier in my career. I let some of my athletes get away with technique flaws that, in hindsight, were very bad. One of the first guys I coached who made the junior worlds team, Josh Wills, was a person I coached to a high level, he’s broken American records, but I let him get away with the bar pulling forward off the floor, and I feel like that impeded his progress his whole career. If I’d been a better coach with him, he’d have been a better lifter. Unfortunately, we can’t ever go back.

I wish that when I’d been a younger coach I’d have concentrated more on pulls and deadlifts. For the first few years of my career, I didn’t really believe in the deadlift at all. I had my reasons – I still believe that there are quite a few athletes who shouldn’t do conventional deadlifts, but in drug-free lifting strength is always the limiting factor, always. And the deadlift is a good strength builder: in many cases, a heavy deadlift will lead to faster pulling increases than pulls. There’s just more overload. And I didn’t really have that worked out mentally early in my career. I was against it for a long time, and that was a mistake.


What do you do that you don’t think enough people are doing?
I think I have high expectations. That’s a carryover from coaching some good lifters. And I find that when you have high expectations, people follow them – having low expectations is one of the worst things you can do. If you go in expecting that an athlete’s going to be able to clean and jerk 400 pounds, many times they will. If you start by taking that as an outlandish goal, you’ll never hit it. I think high expectations are one of the reasons my lifters succeed.

People say you can’t make a lifter good by just wanting them to be better, and that’s true – but you can’t make them good without expecting it out of them.

Another thing that I’ve really tried to foster is competition. I try very hard to get two or three or five lifters in the same weight class to train together, because they’ll push each other in a way that a coach never could. If you have two different 77 kilo guys, they’ll compete every day, push themselves to a higher performance. It’s like a legal PED. If you don’t have other lifters around you pushing you, you’re missing out. You’ll never be as good without them as you are with them. Multiple lifters training in the same room, it’s absolutely necessary.

As a coach, you tend to think it’s about the programme, but it’s about the environment. Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve tried to keep multiple good lifters training together.

What does (almost) everybody else do that you don’t bother with?
I would say that a lot of guys are too focused on finding a magic pill. You’ve got guys who are looking for the perfect supplement, who aren’t making sure they eat enough real food – vegetables and meat, just getting the basics correct. And you’ve got guys who are looking for some magic supplement that will help them sleep better, rather than just going to bed an hour earlier. I tend to believe in focusing on the basics.

If you could have one workout with anyone, past or present, who would you choose?
Joe Mills. He was a guy I never got the chance to train with, but he was just a great coach, a guy who was always thinking about how to get better. I use a lot of his quotes from day to day, and I’d have just loved the chance to train with him, work with him, and see how he operated.

What do you focus on during a big day in the gym?
That’s a tough question. As a lifter getting ready to go is one thing, but as a coach? I think it’s about knowing what you expect to get out of each session and each lifter, having systems in place to get it done. It’s not really about motivation as much as it is having goals.

What has lifting given you in life?
Apart from being a coach and everything that comes with that, I think there are some guys who, for whatever reason, just have a drive in them to be strong. I was the guy who, when I was a kid, I was digging postholes for my first squat rack when I was 12 or 13, I’ve just been lifting for my whole life.

My Life In Lifts is a regular interview where we talk to some of the most elite athletes in strength training and bodybuilding history. To see every interview, click here