Joe Mills, coach of the Central Falls Weightlifting Club in Rhode Island, maintains that despite hard times internationally, the sport has faltered on the national level because of misdirection. Mills believes weightlifting should be a “way of life,” aimed at teaching young men and women inner toughness, discipline and concentration. He also believes that returning to standards of high incorruptible ideals ill revive American lifting.

Mills’ started his own career at the relatively late age of 26. “As a late bloomer, I had to do it right from the start,” he says. Apparently, he did. National titles cam in 1937 and 1942, and Mills became one of the first lifters in the world to clean and jerk double bodyweight, first as a 56 kg. Lifter, then as a 60.

At 60, Joe retired from the platform and began coaching. His pupils include former national champion Mark Cameron and 1969 World 110 kg. Champion, Bob Bednarski. It was Mills who advised Bednarski to take 220 kg. Instead of 212.5 at the 1968 Nationals. Mills recalls, “He (Bednarski) said to me, ‘Joe, 212.5 is the national record.’ I told him, ‘Forget that, you can do the world record.’” Bednarski’s successful lift shook the world of weightlifting and has become part of American weightlifting mythology. A 250-pound American had wrested the clean and jerk record form the 350-pound giant, the Olympic champion Zhabotinsky.

Mills’ coaching style is characterized by a deep involvement with all his lifters. He attends most training sessions at the Central Falls club, a garage-sized facility devoted exclusively to Olympic lifting, and is constantly analyzing, criticizing and making suggestions. And every lifter is privy to Joe’s full attention, not just national and world champions.

The following scenario represents a classic session at the Central Falls Gym.

On August 9, three lifters were training at the Central Falls club. Two of the athletes wee Connecticut residents, Carmen Grillo, a 75 kg. Lifter, and Ed Klonoski, a former 100 kg., recently reduced to 90 kg. Also lifting was longtime Mills’ pupil Dave Brusie, the 1985 American Champion in the 75 kg. Both Klonoski and Grillo are multi-time Connecticut state champions who train in the now accepted way, using percentages or cycling. General conditioning is relegated entirely to non-competitive periods.

After warming up, Grillo snatches a snappy 82.5 for three reps. Mills remarks, “You’re feeling that weight. It should all be one movement. Look up at the top of the pull and jump down fast. All one movement. Time it right, and the weight will literally feel like it’s pulling you up from the bottom position.”

Grillo snatches 85 kg., looking up at the top of the pull. Easy and fast.

“You’re not using your legs,” Mills points out.

“They feel good to me,” replies Grillo.

“I’m only telling you what’s wrong,” explains Mills who smiles and adds, “And there’s plenty.”

Next Brusie takes 87.5 for one rep. As a split lifter, Brusie must pull the bar slightly higher than a good squatter.

“This guy (Brusie) is a little different than you, Grillo,” says Mills. “He can’t look up, no matter what. His conformation won’t allow it. Still, he gets his torso erect for a split second. That’s what matters-looking up just makes that happen easier.”

Brusie does 87.5 again with a roar.

“You’re showing off,” says Mills. “You won’t do very good today.”

Klonoski lifts next, starting with clean and jerks. He quickly advances to 127.5 kg., doing strong reps. He remarks that this is the best he’s done since losing weight.
Mills, always striving for perfection, tells him, “You’re stubbing your toe on the jerk. And your shoulders are dropping down as soon as the bar comes off the floor. You’ve got to keep them back.”

“Is that it?” Klonoski with some surprise. “I was told I was arm pulling, but that didn’t sound right.”

“It wasn’t right,” retorts Mills. “Letting your shoulders drop slows you down.”

Klonoski concentrates on keeping his shoulders back and the 127.5 flies into the racked position. He recovers easily and jerks the weight.

“The clean was dynamite. I’m happy with that,” says Klonoski.

“I’m not,” Mills replies. “You’re still stubbing your toe on the jerk. Jump down, not forward.”

As the workout proceeds, it becomes clear that in response to Mills’ comments, all three lifters are quickly making adjustments which improve their lifts. Grillo, for example, brings his feet closer together at the start of the pull and, as a result, finds he can use his quadriceps more effectively. It is also clear that the Connecticut lifters must make more changes than Brusie, the regular pupil.

“It takes time to lift correctly,” explains Mills. “But if I can get a lifter down to one mistake per lift, that’s acceptable. With two or three, he won’t lift to his potential.”

Striking, too, is Brusie’s stamina. After snatching 87.5, 92.5, 95, all for five reps, he does singles with 97.5, 100, and 102.5. Then he goes on to clean and jerk with 120, 125, and 130, all for five reps, and then singles in 2.5 jumps to 142.5. Though he misses the clean with 142.5, he is not even winded. The Connecticut lifters had ended their workout before, already fatigued.

After watching Brusie lift, Grillo decides to change over to Mills’ training system.

Mills believes that every lifter must be in exactly the sort of shape Brusie is to lift his best. “By doing the lifts three times a week, Brusie’s developing the core muscles, all the little muscles you use for lifting. To be good at lifting, you have to lift” says Mills. “Also, my lifters always know exactly what they are capable of lifting. In competition, they can start with 10 pounds more than their best in training.

Mills avoids percentages as guidelines because “nobody knows exactly what he is capable of lifting on a given training day.” Instead, he wants the lifter to find a proper training poundage which can only be done by trial and error.

“Say a guy is snatching 95 kg.,” Mills explains. “I’d have him start with 65 kg. For five reps, 70 for five, 75 for 5, and then take single attempts in 2.5 kg. jumps to 90 kg. That’s 21 lifts. If he makes all 21, he adds 2.5 kg. To all attempts in the next snatch workout. So he’d start with 67.5. If he misses the last lift (90 kg.), he stays with the same 65 kg. starter, no increase. If he misses several of the heavier lifts, he is probably just tired. He should listen to his body and rest.”

“You’ve got to remember everyone will have a bad workout once in while. But don’t waste workouts. That’s what happens when you train tired,” explains Mills.

After snatching, the lifter does the same sort of routine for the clean and jerk, although with heavier weights. The routine is repeated three times a week.

“After doing the lifts, the athlete can do whatever assistance exercises he wants . . . but they never seem to want to do much more,” says Mills.

In coaching, Mills emphasizes technique not only because it increases lifting efficiency, but because correct lifting style builds muscle in the right places for lifting.

When a lifter hits a sticking point, he should drop back 20 or 30 pounds from his top training weight and drill, doing perhaps ten reps. Suppose our 95 kg. snatcher had one made 92.5 on his 21st rep before getting stuck. Mills would suggest he take 80 kg. or 85 kg. for ten reps, striving to eliminate technical flaws. During the next workout, he would resume the regular method of 21 lifts. If the weights still don’t increase, one of two steps must be taken. Either rest “for one or two training periods, and that means don’t lift weights at all” or take a few weeks on the York courses developed by Bob Hoffman.

Mills believes that the York courses, including the fast deadlifts and repetition squats, remain the best general conditioners for weightlifting.

Joe stresses that the major problem with American lifters is the sense of urgency. “I can’t get new lifters to take six months on the York courses anymore. They don’t understand you have to prepare to lift weights,” he says.

And urgency, he believes, drives lifters to steroids. “Lifting is a way of life, but steroids are a bad way. Worst of all, it’s unnecessary. A 90 kg. lifter can clean and jerk 192.5 without drugs. I’ve seen it done. If we can’t beat the Russians, so what? They’re professionals.”

Mills recommends that every lifter make an effort to find a coach. “And not another lifter, you’ll just trade bad habits.”

To those who might seek him out he advises, “I’m out to make you a better lifter. There’s no sense you coming here and saying you’re doing all good lifts. It that’s the case, you might as well have stayed home.”