Donny —  December 13, 2010 — 17 Comments

By Cedric Unholz


Part 1 of 2

Hi Donny, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Could you give my readers your background, and how you came to be an Olympic Weightlifter and Strength and Conditioning coach?

During a tour in Iraq I came across a link on the internet called On this link was an advertisement for Mike’s Gym in Bonsall, CA. Mike’s gym is a regional Olympic Weightlifting training facility and the man in charge of it is Mike Burgener. I trained with Mike for a few months preparing for my first national contest which I took a bronze medal at. From this moment I knew I could be good if I applied myself.

During my time at the American open I met with coach Glenn Pendlay who invited me to train at WFAC (Wichita Falls Athletic Club) owned by Mark Rippetoe. The talent Glenn has for coaching along with a great facility gave me a perfect atmosphere to refine my lifting style gradually without any interruptions. Over a 19 month period with Glenn I was able to break a collegiate record, hold numerous state titles, beat a defending world champion on a national stage, and qualify for my first international meet.

After about two plus years with Glenn I started to want to train with better weightlifters so I put in my papers for the Regional Olympic Training Complex located in Colorado Springs. I was graciously invited to train here under the watch of coach Paul Fleschler who helped prepare me for my first world championships. I spent a little over a year at the complex and was able to meet and train with some real champions in this sport.

From Colorado I decided I wanted a warmer climate and was asked to train with Jim Moser and his son in Maui. The training with Jim along with Hawaii’s pristine waters was perfect for any weightlifter to become as great as they believe they can. I was fortunate to lift for Tommy Kono towards the end of my stay.

Later I teamed up with David Spitz and American Weightlifting. David had brought the greatest weightlifting coach in history Ivan Abijaiev to California along with introducing me to Alex Krychev (Olympic silver medallist in weightlifting). Ivan and Alex both gave me a unique understanding of this sport experienced by few Americans. While training with Alex and Ivan I claimed another national championship and competed at the Olympic trials.

Since I have been in California I have thankfully been involved in the genesis of California Strength an Olympic weightlifting/strength and conditioning facility located in the bay area. I have become a certified fitness professional through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and have pursued a career in the health and fitness industry. I am now training again with Glenn at California Strength in pursuit of the Olympic games and am in the process of writing a collection of essays for a book dedicated to the weightlifter. I hope to complete this book soon but the process is proving to be very painstaking.

Could you give my readers an outline of your training philosophy/methodology?

    Because I have been educated about this sport from multiple renown coaches I eventually had to take the knowledge I learned and piece it together in a way that makes sense to me and keeps me interested in the original reason I became attracted to this sport. Because I am still an athlete and am interested in improving my own total, I had to develop a philosophy that resembled my most cherished values and use them to improve my own performance. I have a strong belief that technique refines itself and speaks to the weightlifter over time allowing them to correct mistakes solely with consistency in their training.

    The method I use when coaching is to push the weightlifter to learn what is essentially needed quickly, limit the details, and let them discover the gratification that comes with figuring out their own unique style. This must be done from the onset to see the commitment of the athlete. Unless that weightlifter portrays a hard work ethic and resolve to the pursuit of their chosen goals for this sport, I as a coach am no more than a pawn for them to vent on. The weightlifter must know the pursuit of improvement lies only within their commitment and optimistic outlook. Learning to be incited by discouragement will help enable you to do this.

    My philosophy champions the physical magnificence of man and sees the sport of weightlifting as the ideal way to display such grandiose competitive might to the world. I hold man and his companion woman as the most beautiful of God’s creations and that each sex possesses a strength within them that cannot be found without dangerous trial and steadfast conviction through either intellectual or athletic achievement. Competition breeds excellence which shines not only for the victorious moment but echoes for generations only to be outdone by men and women you will never meet but who will have heard your fame and studied your romantic example.

    The weightlifter must live a confident life of joyfulness and embrace ego if they choose to lift exceptional weights and be a marvel in today’s ethos. All weightlifters, I believe, share a similar background which signifies a rugged individualistic character epitomizing the hero or heroine. It is this common denominator which is a must to begin lifting weights you are truly capable of.

    You offer an online training service as a part of your coaching. Could you outline what this entails and how the readers could get in touch with you regarding this?

    I offer a Skype analysis of technique, answer questions the weightlifter may have on how to get better, and write an approach to training over a weekly basis. Clients send me videos of themselves and after careful study I meet with them through Skype and discuss what they could be doing better and what they should not be doing. I chose Skype for the video engagement and it is cheap for both myself and my client to communicate over large distances. I believe it is important to establish a relationship of trust between the athlete and coach. Because you can see my face and hear my voice you can feel my excitement at your progress when I learn you have made a personal record. This venture was thought of by me to save the time of those weightlifters who wanted to learn how to become great at weightlifting. Contact me at to learn more.

    How do you track and manage the recovery/regeneration of the athletes you coach as well as yourself?

    The word recovery is an evil word used by individuals who have no confidence in themselves. It is a word that has no place in a weightlifters vocabulary. Weightlifting is a sport that will test not only your physical might but your spiritual beliefs (if you have any), and your mental conviction. A true weightlifter and the person who chooses to begin weightlifting with seriousness must learn to see a vision within themselves and train the body to adapt gradually over the course of events in and out of competition to this vision without fear. Adaptation is what you must be thinking about, not recovery. When I am serious about training I do not think I ever must recover. Instead I allow my body to deal with its pangs by mentally being strong and remaining stoic as best I can.

Some things you can do which I believe in are aqua therapy both in regards to drinking plenty of water for mental clarity and glycogen accretion for the muscles. To help soothe discomfort take warm baths and consume mega doses of vitamin-C, omega-3,  and sufficient iron for female weightlifters.

Nutrition is very important here and quite often is not understood by many weightlifters. A weightlifter must EAT! To combat exhaustion in training the weightlifter must have a great appetite, knowledge of their metabolism, an understanding of nutrient dense foods and how to prepare them. Soy, processed foods, alcohol, gluten, sugar, preservatives, and unhealthy fats need to be eliminated from the diet. Eating whole and organic proteins, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats must become autonomic in your lifestyle as a weightlifter, athlete, or anyone for that matter who stays active.

To track any weightlifters diet I have them record their bodyweight daily along with their water intake by the ounce. Speaking about diet is a recurring discussion for every practice. I tell every weightlifter to pick 2 days of the week to prepare most if not all of their meals. Planning what you will eat in advance will save you from impulse eating and looking for quick but unhealthy meals. Supplementation is a great resource for the weightlifter but will be different based upon gender, age and the fitness of the athlete. Since much of my clientèle are men and women over the age of 35 I had to go in search of a supplement I believed in and could stake my reputation on. I now offer a product specific to the needs of weightlifters whose metabolisms are not 20 years old any more. The meal replacements and post exercise shakes I offer meet those demands and offer a hormonally balanced option. To learn more please contact me.

    What, in your opinion, is the biggest problem you see within the field today?

    The same as yesterday I suppose. The use of drugs and the devaluation of the possibility within man at becoming ferociously strong free from the use of chemicals.

    You currently compete in Olympic Weightlifting (Donny is a 2x U.S. National Champion and World Team member and is training for the London 2012 Olympics), and train athletes from other sports. You also spent time training under Ivan Abadjiev who is a world-class Bulgarian Weightlifting coach. What have these experiences been like and how have they shaped the way you train yourself and your athletes?

I will discuss this in complete detail within a chapter of my book which will chronicle my entire time with uncle Abadjiev. I have been asked by many people what it was like to train with the man and wanting to know more about my experience with him. For now, I can tell you Abadjiev was a man you could not impress no matter how hard you tried but he still shook your hand when you made a personal best. He did not care if you could barely walk after training and did not want to hear excuses. However, he truly wanted the best for you as a weightlifter. He was full of charismatic joy and wisdom which as a young man I am very fortunate to have been a part of. Whenever an athlete of mine makes a personal best I shake their hand in remembrance of the time with him. For myself, I learned what it takes to become a master at this sport and through him I learned how to attack the bar constantly no matter how many misses or how I felt fearlessly going after more weight again and again until it is accomplished. I try to relay this dogged pride in anyone who takes up weightlifting but this is something you cannot teach. Rather you must be inspired to lift like this.

    What in your mind are the key differences between training competitive weightlifters and strength-power team sport athletes, and how would the specific programming variables (volume, frequency, loading parameters/progressions etc.) differ?

    Parameters for the weightlifter

# of exercises in a given session : 1-4

Effective percentage intensity: 95% or greater

Rest interval: no more than 2 – 3 minutes between sets (for ATP/CP levels to return)

Sets: 8 – 12 (4-7 at below 95% of maximum)

Times per day: 1 – 8

Times per week: 3 – 7 (determined by whether the weightlifter has gone through puberty)

Concentric/Eccentric tempo: Seconds/Split Seconds

Repetitions: 1-2 (advanced) / 1-3 (non-advanced)

Mental Outlook: Joyfulness

Progression and loading follow the SAID principle over a period of years with change in the cycle of training only occurring before competition to rest the nervous system and strengthen the will to win. Gradual increase in weights attempted varying in the size of increase depends on how fit the weightlifter is both physically and mentally. Once the weightlifter has adapted to quickly getting to maximum weights then the training is nothing more than recursive maximal performance.

The term “strength/power athlete” needs to be more specific in choice of discipline to give a decent answer here. Strength is the MOST essential quality for any athlete of any sport. Because an advanced weightlifter is the epitome of strength purely along competitive standards (Olympic) all related disciplines should take a similar approach to the parameters given unless specificity of action requires change. There are no parameters, for example, behind hypertrophy and hypertrophy is NOT an essential quality needed behind sport. Appetite and genetics determine an athletes size if size is essential for their discipline.

Training athletes to achieve maximum strength performance requires adapting them to the movement of specificity. Over the course of years sentient coordination is established between the mind and body of the athlete. Coordination and confidence is what gives the athlete the much sought after grace displayed by champions. This graceful showing of immense strength no matter what sport you are involved in demands punishing hours of training. Any demand outside of your chosen sport must be kept as minimal as possible in order to not disrupt timing or waste your efforts. This is especially essential for the athlete who competes alone but is also important for the athlete involved in a team sport. Exercises outside the actual discipline are only to be applied when they will improve maximal strength or if needed for rehabilitation. Strength increases performance along every dimension if it is approached appropriately and consistently.




  1. Donny, you are a cherished part of the California Strength family. I am proud to have been a small part of your journey… Your wisdom, charisma and character are captured in your writing style. I look forward to reading every blog, forum post and article you produce.

  2. you are truly an inspiration, it is great to be able to read journalism like this.

  3. Donny,

    You’ve acquired a substantial amount of wisdom as well as knowledge at a young age.

    It’s great to have the opportunity to watch you develop at close range. It’s even better to be able to count you among my friends.

    I think a lot of people are going to be interested in, and learn from what you have to say – both as an athlete and as a man.

    Cheers, Mark Haz

  4. Genius. Your writing is excellent. I loved learning about your training history thus far. You have many more years and medals ahead of you. Thank you for again emphasizing the importance of eating here. I am looking forward to many more PRs with you. A 20% increase in my snatch PR after only ten sessions with you. That’s what happens when you train with the best!

  5. I have trained with Donny for a few years now. I first met Donny while searching for options to get back into shape after years of neglect. I am in my 40’s and was at a tipping point of being healthy or unhealthy for many years to come. Donny took me from not being able to squat a 10 kilo bar to competing in regional competitions.
    I am a transformed person both physically and mentally thanks to Donny’s wisdom as a trainer. My goal is not only to improve and compete at the national Masters level, but to be an example to woman struggling to feel energetic and healthy, no matter what their age or current level of fitness is. Olympic Weightlifting can be pursued at any age. I have had many people come up to me in the past year and tell me I look 10 years younger. Some don’t even recognize me because I have lost weight and gained confidence and composure.
    So I challenge the parents who drop their kids at the gym to stick around, pick up the bar, and start moving. And I recommend Donny a the best person to help you learn weightlifting, which will improve your life and any other physical pursuit you may have. If you can’t squat it is time to start! See you at the gym!

  6. I thank everyone for the thoughtful comments. The past year at CalStrength has been unforgettable. I am very proud to be able to coach, train with, and be a part of such exemplary people. Merry Christmas.

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    […] Unholz interviews Donny Shankle (part I).  As usual, Donny gives you a plethora of great quotes to motivate you in the gym!  Over the last year, Donny […]

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