Being relatively new to the sport of weightlifting, I am always looking to learn more about technique and the different styles of successful lifters. This normally means watching endless hours of YouTube videos of my favorite lifters and studying how they move. One of my favorite YouTube channels for this is The Attitude Nation, which used to chronicle the training of 2011 National Champion Jon North (AKA “The Champ”) and now tracks the progress of his own weightlifting team. Upon hearing that CrossFit Hail Fire in Orwigsburg, PA would be hosting an Attitude Nation Weightlifting Seminar, I jumped at the opportunity.
A little more about Jon North. He and his wife Jess own The Attitude Nation which was born out of Jon’s incredible passion and excitement for weightlifting. As he says on his podcast, the AN is for those who “do what they want” and those that raise a middle finger (or two) to society when they try to tell you how to live your life. Jon is a former national champion in the 94 kg weight class and has represented the US in many international competitions. He brings an excitement to the sport that is, in my opinion, unmatched. Coach Dan got me into weightlifting but watching old Cal Strength and MDUSA videos of Jon and Donny Shankle made me want to compete. Recently, Jon retired from the sport and now coaches a team of weightlifters full time at his gym in NC. Am I a Jon North fan? Yes. But I will write this review objectively so you know exactly what to expect if you were to take this seminar. I feel that’s only fair.
To start the day, Jon began by telling his story. Fueled by an iced black coffee (AKA “Miss Brown Eyes”) he energetically told the group about how he got into weightlifting and why it means so much to him as well as what we were going to learn during the seminar. Most importantly, Jon stressed that there is no wrong way to lift weights within the rules. What he would be teaching us is his way; a technique he has developed over the years by pulling from many different coaching influences. We could then use the “AN Catapult” exclusively or use pieces of it like he has to create our own style of lifting. This to me was a very important point because all too often, I come across athletes who think there is only one right way to lift. I personally have tried three different styles of snatching in the past 8 months and have finally settled on one I feel comfortable with. Everyone is different and Jon understands this.
While speaking, the one thing I noticed from the get-go is Jon’s passion for all things weightlifting. His excitement for the seminar was genuine and I could tell he wanted this to be a worthwhile experience for all of us. Along with Jon was his wife, Jessica North who is also a nationally-ranked weightlifter. Throughout the day, Jon would be describing the movements and the physics behind them while Jess got the enviable duty of demonstrating. Unbeknownst to her, she also provided some particularly funny moments with her reactions to Jon’s self-described ADD tangents. Especially when Jon said that anyone who took his Level 2 seminar could stay at his house.
With the intro complete we moved on to the snatch portion of the seminar. Since the snatch is such a technical lift, Jon and Jess broke it down into many small pieces. I won’t detail each step here because that is what you take the seminar for. After each technical instruction and subsequent demonstration, the group grabbed a bar and drilled the movement. The entire time, Jon and Jess walked the room and made sure that every athlete was doing it correctly before moving on to the next step.
On occasion, Jon would tell everyone to rest except one person that he saw was having some trouble with a particular drill. He would then have that person repeat the skill until it was correct, the whole time giving the athlete different cues to help it click in his or her head. It really was a neat moment because two things were happening. The athlete was perfecting the movement and those of us who are coaches or aspire to coach one day were learning several effective ways of teaching the lift. With Jon and Jess’s help each athlete would quickly demonstrate proficiency of the movement, often to the supportive applause from the rest of us.
A group shot of us working on the catch
Once we learned and drilled the AN Catapult technique for the snatch it was time to max out. Up to this point, all work was with done with an empty bar so this was a welcome change. Weights were quickly loaded and the blissful sounds of bars crashing to the ground filled the room. Jon and Jess again walked around the room to watch lifts and offer form critiques. Some PRed and some did not but that is to be expected when we just learned a new style. 20 minutes later the session wrapped and we were off to lunch.
Next the group learned how to apply the AN Catapult technique to the clean. Not surprisingly, all the drilling we did earlier in the day made this transition pretty seamless. In no time at all, we were all completing the entire clean movement with light weight.
Before we all maxed out again, Jon and Jess gave us some instruction on the jerk. With the jerk being the least technical of the movements there wasn’t nearly as much info as the other two portions. That being said, Jon and Jess did a provide valuable information in the form of an effective drill we could all do in our own gyms as well as some trade secrets they have learned over the 14 combined years in the sport. Admittedly, I watch almost every YouTube training vid out there and had not seen or heard any of these tips so I thought that was really cool.
Time to max out again. I had a question about my clean grip so I pulled Jon aside. He quickly helped me adjust my feet at the set up which made an immediate difference in my second pull. I could feel a distinct difference in the “pop” off of my thighs with the AN Catapult technique compared to the technique I had been using. Weights I used to struggle to get under seemed to float, giving me plenty of time to catch with a straight back and high elbows. I was no longer chasing the bar and catching it with the weight on my toes. This had been a struggle of mine for some time so it was nice to see some progress. I personally did not PR due to some nagging injuries but plenty of people did as evidenced by the copious amount of yelling, encouraging and celebratory screams. Outside of the person setting a PR, no one was more excited than Jon and Jess. They truly love this sport.
The seminar was supposed to go from 9-5 but we ended up finishing close to 6, not because anything was dragged out but because there was so much information to review and practice. Never did I feel bored and Jon and Jess kept the whole thing pretty fast-paced. The only thing I would change about the day is the lunch hour. Lunch wasn’t until 3PM and took place after we maxed our snatches. I would have preferred it to be either before we maxed our snatches or right around 12-1PM. That being said, there were plenty of shorts breaks along the way so people who had snacks could have refueled but some did not bring any food with them and I imagine they would have been quite hungry.
So who would I recommend this seminar to? This seminar would be very beneficial to weightlifters and CrossFitters of all skill levels. Even for those who have been competing for a long time. I think the AN Catapult style will appeal especially to CrossFitters because of how efficiently the technique allows you to lift heavier weights. This would obviously translate to less energy used and faster WOD times.
I would also say this seminar is for those athletes looking to be inspired. Jon’s story is one that would fit perfectly in an E:60 segment. The guy has overcome some real adversity and has used those low points in his life to fuel his fire for success. His weightlifting journey is essentially an analog for life itself; how you have the ability to rise above a bad situation by changing your attitude. If you want something bad enough, stop making excuses and go get it. Like a bar-slamming Phoenix rising from the ashes of despair, Jon has left his checked past behind and is now a great role model for those looking to do the same.
At lunch, one participant told me how she listened to “Weightlifting Talk” (Jon’s podcast) the whole way from New Jersey. She even told me that she had tears in her eyes listening to Jon’s intro speech. It occurred to me then that the AN seminar is more than just about weightlifting for some people. It is a chance to connect to a person who has beaten the odds; possibly the same odds you yourself are facing. Those who have been “shunned by society” have a champion in Jon North. For some, that can be worth more than weightlifting ever will be.
“Love Your Life or Change It”. That has become the slogan for the Attitude Nation and was emblazoned across the back of Jon’s t-shirt. He has certainly changed his own life. Through this seminar, I have the feeling he will change many more.