Michael McKenna

What club do you coach for?

McKenna’s Gym and East Coast Gold Weightlifting

Describe your history in weightlifting. How long have you been coaching? Do you also participate as an athlete?

I became involved in weightlifting in 1993 while a track and field athlete at the University of Delaware.  I took my USAW Level 1 Class from Leo Totten in October of that year and competed in my first meet a month later at Gettysburg College.  I competed as an athlete from 1993 through 2010, and the highlight of my career was the bronze medal at the 2003 American Open.  I also qualified for Senior Nationals twice and won the 2010 Master’s National Title. 

What do you enjoy most about coaching?

While I love to write programs for athletes, to get into what they need and how each individual will respond to different stimuli, the most rewarding aspect of coaching is seeing the athletes on the platform achieve their goals.  Watching some athletes this weekend, for example, get a big smile as they recovered with their final jerk and qualified for Nationals is as good as it gets for a coach.  Ultimately, what we do isn’t about us, it’s about our athletes.

How many athletes do you train? What’s your weekly routine with them?

I currently write programs for about 45 individual athletes, including sport performance programs for athletes in sports other than weightlifting.  My gym is in York County, PA, and we have about 25 people who train there on a daily basis, and we’re open seven days a week.  For the people who come to the gym, I try to spend a few minutes with each of them discussing their lifts that day and watching them in their technical movements.  At least once a week I’ll work for an extended period of time with as many people as I can, watching them do their entire snatch portion of their workout, for instance.  For many people who don’t make it to my gym on a daily basis, I watch videos and send feedback daily or weekly, depending on when I get videos and how many I get from each athlete. 

What’s your favorite city and/or country that you’ve traveled to for competition?

Dallas, TX, for 2015 Nationals was my favorite trip; it was the biggest trip for my gym as far as numbers of lifters, and most of my family was able to come out, including my wife and two of my kids; my then seven year old daughter, Lucy, flew for the first time and will always remember that experience. 

How would you describe your coaching style? How do you approach the task of motivating others?

I describe myself as kind but not nice.  I try to be honest with my athletes, even if that honesty forces the athlete to realize aspects of their career they don’t want to see yet.  But I use what I see as the basis for discussion about the individual’s goals and future in lifting or athletics.  When I need to motivate athletes, I use many different kinds of styles, but I’m well known for my booming voice and how I speak with my athletes after their attempts, giving positive feedback- what they did right and what they can do to improve.

What are your plans and goals for your life in weightlifting? How do you see your future in the sport? Do you plan to stay involved in weightlifting for many years? 

Like most weightlifting coaches, I’d love to coach someone to an Olympic medal.  But my future in the sport won’t be because I have one Olympian, it’s because I treat everyone who walks into my gym with the same level of respect and attention, whether they could be an Olympian or whether they’ll struggle to squat properly.  I’ve taught and worked in a bank, the whole time dreaming of running my own gym and coaching full time.  I’m happy with what I’m doing, I love the challenge and love being a part of the growth of our sport.  I plan to stay involved with lifting for as long as I’m able to. 

Who are some of your major influences? Who are the people you want to thank? 

Narrowing down my coaching influences is a difficult proposition.  My high school coaches, including Dr. Bill Doyle (football coach and math teacher), instilled in me the commitment to hard work and teamwork that is a hallmark of my training philosophy.  In weightlifting, Leo Totten got me started as a coach and I owe much of success to the principles he shares with all his coaches:  Train hard, train right, and think of the athlete first.  But every day I work and coach I do things my college track coach, Jim Fischer, taught us.  Fish is a great man and a great coach; he taught us that a group of dedicated young men and women can achieve greatness with hard work, good planning, and simply doing your job every day. 

What advice would you give to athletes that are interested in trying out weightlifting?

I advise them to be patient, focus on improving their overall body strength, and to learn to work smarter than harder. 

What do you see as some of the major benefits of weightlifting?

While there are obvious physical benefits to weightlifting, including keeping us strong as we age and, therefore, improving our quality of life, nothing is a greater benefit than facing yourself, alone on a platform, with heavy weight as you’re about to attempt a lift.  The action and decisions (physical, emotional, and psychological) which a lifter performs under pressure build and reveal us as athletes and people.  Facing that revelation is the single greatest benefit of weightlifting.  That bar, that lift, is the mirror of your character; you can give that moment all of you and be drained and satisfied, or you can fall short of giving everything you have.  The success isn’t in making the lift, it’s in giving all of your being to a single moment.

Did you ever participate in or coach any other sports?

In high school, I played football, wrestled, and threw shot put. At the University of Delaware, I threw hammer and indoor weight.  I also wrestled in several open freestyle tournaments while in college.  I coached wrestling, track and field, soccer and girls’ lacrosse at the high school level, and I currently coach athletes in strongman and powerlifting.

Anything else you would like to share?

I’d like to thank weightlifting for the family it gave me; I met my wife through the sport, most of my best friends, and I love my job- and weightlifting is the center point in the biggest, most positive moments of my adult life.  I hope I can give back to the sport some of the joy and love I received through it.