Interview with Sean Waxman
An Interview with one of our Brand Ambassadors - Sean Waxman. If you are interested in Olympic Lifting, you’ll certainly be interested in what Sean has to say. Enjoy.
What is your athletic background that lead you into Olympic lifting?
Athletics have been part of my family for generations. My grandfather was an armed forces boxing champion, boxing referee, professional wrestler, and ran 4 x 100 relay on the national track team with Jesse Owens. Both my uncle and father were standout athletes playing many sports including semi-pro football. I’m holding a football or baseball mitt in many of my earliest baby pictures. So sports were part of the early fabric of my existence.
I grew up in a tough New York neighborhood during the late 70’s and 80’s at the height of the crime/drug epidemic. Being respected in the streets was a necessary component for survival. There were many ways to earn respect, few of them legal. Fortunately, being a good athlete was one of the legal ways. This motivated me to stand out in sports. As a kid, I excelled in basketball, football, archery, martial arts, and boxing. However, stickball and baseball were by far my best sports.
I was also fascinated with the science of strength, speed, and power at a very early age. Watching the 1980 Olympics on TV and discovering an issue of the Soviet Sports Review at age 13 fueled this fascination. These events marked the beginning of my quest to understand how people become big, strong, and fast. This passion eventually led me towards Olympic Weightlifting.
When did you decide to start competing in Olympic lifting?
While playing football in college I realized that I wanted to become a strength coach. This decision led me to train and compete. I ended my football career prematurely and started training full-time as an Olympic weightlifter. I figured the best way for me to become a good coach was not only to study the science of performance but also to experience the process of athletic development for myself. Since Olympic weightlifting requires the purest application of the science of strength and speed, I chose to immerse myself in it. I was in my early twenties.
How did you transition from being, a competitive Olympic Weightlifter to being a coach?
I started coaching student-athletes as an undergrad before I was a competitive weightlifter. They saw me training in the weightroom (for football) and approached me with questions about what they should do for training and why. This led to an informal coaching role with some of them.
After college, I was deciding between a career in medicine or coaching. Either way, I knew I would need to immerse myself in science. I had recently learned that famed Olympic weightlifting coach Bob Takano was in Southern California and within driving distance of world-renowned biomechanics professor and strength coach Dr. John Garhammer. A particularly icy New York winter was the straw that broke the camel’s back. One day, after chipping through literally inches of ice to get my car door open, I decided I needed to escape from New York winters. That very day I packed up and drove out to California to become a coach and a weightlifter.
My first paid coaching gig came while I was in grad school and training full time as a weightlifter in 1995. Los Angeles City College hired me to work with the men’s basketball team. Within two years of working with them, they won their first state championship.
Where do you see yourself going with Olympic Lifting and coaching?
I want to encourage and foster greater participation in competitive Olympic weightlifting at an early age. I would also like to spread the gospel of the snatch and clean & jerk as powerful and effective tools for general fitness and wellness.
Within weightlifting, my ultimate goal is to be the first American Olympic weightlifting coach to produce World Championship and Olympic medalists consistently throughout my career.
Also, since weightlifting is such an essential component of CrossFit, I want to help improve the efficiency of as many CrossFitters as possible, whether competitive or not. On the competitive side, I want to help develop world-class CrossFit Games competitors and, eventually, champions.
How do you see your coaching helping people outside of O-lifting? For example, Crossfit or non-competitive athletes looking to learn your sport.
The nice thing for me about weightlifting is that it requires people to move safely, efficiently and with strength and power. I think these qualities should be important to most people, not just weightlifters.
That’s why CrossFit stands out to me as such a great example of a group that gets this. No matter whether they compete or just train for day-to-day fitness, CrossFitters use Olympic lifting and other barbell lifts as primary tools in their training. They also understand the benefits of moving efficiently. My gym has had the good fortune of teaching technique seminars and providing ongoing technique coaching to dozens of CrossFitters and CrossFit coaches from affiliates all over Southern California. In addition to numerous recreational CrossFitters, we also work with competitors and teams that are making names for themselves in local and Games-related competitions (thanks in part, I hope, to the technique help we are able to provide).
Coaches seek me out because they want to add the Olympic lifts to their coaching toolkit. I’ve always believed that there’s no better way to coach the lifts than to learn how to perform them yourself. When I work with coaches, I teach them not only the snatch and clean & jerk but also the process behind learning and teaching these lifts. I remind them that every part of the training process should have a purpose. Coaches should always be prepared to answer the question “Why are we doing this?”
Occasionally I work with people that aren’t athletes at all. We use many of the same tools with them as we use with our athletes. The ultimate goals for most athletes and non-athletes are the same: being strong and stable in the most important positions in life: squatting, reaching above your head, and bending over. Everyone needs to do these things. The mechanisms are the same for competitors and non-athletes alike. Only the intensity varies.
Finally, on the programming side, we’ve recently launched: www.weightliftingwod.com, a free global resource with daily workouts in periodized training cycles to help people improve their snatch and clean & jerk. Though it’s geared towards those that have already learned the Olympic lifts, we program it to be just as useful to recreational participants as it is for athletes.