My Definition of Better

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Diane, I think of you as a champion of beauty over excess. Something tells me you would always prefer a “better” squat or snatch to a heavier one. How do you define progress now? As a coach, what’s important to you beyond just load? – C


: movement forward or toward a place

: the process of improving or developing something over a period of time

: gradual betterment

Progress is one of those things where, if we set parameters, it becomes an easy and very tangible way to measure success. I wasn’t quite sure how I defined progress before, so this was something that took me a minute to marinate over. Not that I didn’t know what progress was, but because I have so many different ways that an athlete can improve in my mind it was difficult and quite lengthy to go, “Yes, progress is X, Y, and Z beyond just load increasing on the bar.”

I will try to break this down into the different areas of progress I look for in an athlete:

1. Mental

I don’t want to be someone’s coach forever. In fact, I’m not interested in building an army of “yes ma’am, no ma’am” athletes. What I’m interested in doing is building an athlete that can also become a coach. One that has not only self-awareness, but one that understands that intricacies of what’s going on with them after a lift has been taken.

Too often athletes black out after the bar leaves the floor and all of the feedback is left to the coach to provide. This method, all though is one option, can leave out details that only the athlete were he/she more aware could provide. Now granted this takes time.

A new athlete is like a baby, where just moving an empty bar up and down can be sensory overload. So one of the things I assess as progress is an athlete’s “coming out” into the world. This is when things move from being internal to external as the light goes on, and they start to recognize certain details within themselves.



2. Emotional

Or, I should specifically say confidence or approach. How an athlete approaches a lift, any lift (ie. snatch, clean&jerk, deadlift, squat, bench, you name it) tells me a fair amount about the training age of an athlete. It’s not 100%, but I’m pretty intuitive when it comes to reading people. I’ve been in the people business for 15 years now. You don’t hand out in this industry for that long without coming out with some super powers.

An athlete that’s newer, when they approach the bar, there’s a lot of fidgeting and hesitation before the take off. An athlete that’s a bit more seasoned tends to have more composure, it can be either a quiet confidence or a loud show to demonstrate his/her own self-assurance. Either way, you know that athlete feels certain about taking the lift in front of them.

Emotional also means how they approach training. Seasoned athletes also tend to know when enough is enough and pushing it more will be too much. My new guys like pushing the envelop, a lot. It’s like they have no idea where their limits are and they want to keep going by taking a missed attempt 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 times until they either make the lift or break (literally). Or, advancing the weight on the bar too quickly or too much because they just don’t know how to warm-up well and make the appropriate jumps towards a heavier attempt, etc. This, of course, is where my role as a coach is extremely important helping guide them along the way until they can make more discerning decisions on their own.

Wanting to push the envelope is a great trait in my mind, it’s not something I discourage when my guys and gals want to move themselves forward. I feel in many ways this helps move their progress forward faster. I just have to make sure they don’t kill themselves in the process.


3. Physical

The physical progress in athletes are a bit more obvious and tangible. This means weight on the barbell in setting new PRs, but it also means less tangible qualities such as how the athlete moved the bar. Going from ground to overhead is easy, but what sets the newer athlete apart from the Olympian besides the obvious numbers? …It’s the details.

Going back to the the baby analogy – When babies are first learning how to move around, the observation in their movement quality can be described as “clunky”, “big” and “sudden”. This unrefined motion is simply a lack of flow or coordinated development. The same can be said of an athlete picking up an empty bar for the first time. But as the baby continues to develop these details of coordination, a certain smoothness starts to occur.

We can pretty much say the exact same thing for an athlete learning the lifts. As the movement starts to settle into their bodies, we see an athlete is now able to transition from position to position with less hesitancy. The momentum is now able to be maintained with less resistance in slowing and breaking. This, to me, is the ultimate progress. An athlete can “PR” in my mind if they moved the same weight they’ve done before poorly, but now better.

This physical component is huge in China. Coach Wu, the Singaporean national team coach, tells his athletes that each lift is like a performance where the audience observing must get a sense that the lift was performed with ease and grace no matter how much weight is on the bar.  

Recent fascination with the Chinese fast pulls (aka panda pulls) has all the kids trying this new move out on the dance floor. I know because I’ve been getting tagged in a lot of the posts. The Chinese use this exercise to time the extension; and for them, is the closest move that mimicks the actual lifts. Here are a few things to keep in mind should you choose to give this movement a whirl: . 1. Keep the bar close. You should have the feeling that you are able to just snatch/clean the lift after the extension. 2. Keep the shoulders relaxed. If your shoulders are too tense, you will have difficulty (read impossible) driving the bar into your chin. 3. The pull to the chin is really your pull under the bar. The shape your hips, legs and feet are in should closely match the shape of your receiving position. @wuchuanfu, @iamjwjw . #FuBarbell #ChuanfuTraining #ArtOfPower #ReebokONE #CrossFit #Olympicstyleweightlifting #usaw #snatch #clean #cleanandjerk #technique #education #motivation #instagramfitness

A photo posted by Diane Fu (@dianefu) on


These 3 domains co-exist where one will affect the other and nothing occurs or lives in a vacuum. As coaches for the masses, I’m not talking about the special 5% of athletes or the ones one their way to becoming the special 5%, through having a broader definition of progress, I’m able to continually develop athletes that come onto my platform in a way that I feel is well rounded and has a higher level of longevity.

Progress to me is an athlete that moves from following behind me, to standing next to me, to eventually surpassing me as their coach.

Always learning,



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19 Responses to “My Definition of Better”

  1. Andre DeNegri

    Wow. Diane is awesome. Such a inspiring individual. I aspire to be like her, keep it up Barbell Daily!

  2. Ronnie Howard

    Huge fan of Diane. Her lifting videos on are awesome. Huge fan of her approach to teaching.

  3. Neal Sivula

    Diane (and Chris),

    The Daily has been awesome since inception, but this is one of my favourite pieces by far. Great thoughts on approaching training, and life.

  4. Jennifer

    Loved this article from Diane…just what I needed today…her approach is rock solid.

  5. Becky kainec

    I absolutely love this post. So good for athletes and coaches alike. I’m loving the Daily posts and how much I’m learning. Thanks!

  6. Kyle S.

    I’m really interested in this concept of “becoming your own coach” to paraphrase what Diane said. Not with the purpose of replacing your coach, but increasing the awareness you have when performing these movements. Are there any other athletes/articles/experts that deal with this topic for a relatively new person to explore to grow their awareness? Or any advice anyone would offer?

    • Chris

      The only advice is to invest in yourself and grow. Learn every..single…day. Your path will be 100% unique.

  7. Mark G

    Fantastic article. Many thanks to Diane and the Barbell Shrugged crew for sharing this

  8. Matthew Forrester

    Epic. Definitely the kind of Coach/Human that I’d want to be around to gain knowledge from.


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