• Leo Totten

The Evolution of the East Coast Gold CAMP Concept


Leo Totten, MS, USAW 5

Totten Training Systems, LLC

Head Coach, East Coast Gold WL Team

This story starts back in the summer of 1984. I had just finished competing in the Olympic Trials at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. This was going to be my last competition as a weightlifter so I could focus on family and my evolving coaching career. After 17 years of serious training and a rather successful lifting career, I wanted to change focus.

A few weeks after returning from the Trials, I got a call from Harvey Newton, the Executive Director of the US Weightlifting Federation, which is now, of course, USA Weightlifting. He asked me if I would be available to assist Dick “Smitty” Smith in running a weightlifting camp at York Barbell that summer. I thought this would be an amazing opportunity to jump start my coaching career and to work with Smitty would be an invaluable learning situation. I was honored that Harvey had the faith in me to ask!

The week long camp went extremely well and was attended by about 20 lifters ranging in ages and abilities from all over the country. The training was at historic York Barbell and the athletes were housed and fed at nearby York College. Lots of training and learning took place and the group environment was awesome! As it turned out, Smitty let me take the lead for the most part and I really enjoyed the role. Little did I know that 36 years later, the camp concept would continue to grow and prosper!!

A bit of historical trivia, not only was this camp concept a focus for the lifters and coaches in the area, it was also part of the Eastern Regional Training Center plan. Back in the late ‘80’s, early ‘90’s, the USWF was trying to get a regional training center concept together in various parts of the country and this was an arm of that plan for our part of the country. This concept didn’t pan out for more than a couple years but we took the idea of bringing lifters and coaches together from the eastern seaboard and developing them into one team and continuing with the camps. Hence, the humble beginnings of East Coast Gold in 1992!


1990 Camp Photo (Check the ERTC logo on the shirts!)

From these humble beginnings at York Barbell, the camps became an annual event and changed locations several times. We were fortunate to have great facilities and equipment at York but not so fortunate at several locations. For instance, at Gettysburg College, the housing and meals were outstanding, but the tiny gym only had a variety of machines so we had to literally move everything out and bring in ALL of our bars, plates, racks and platforms! Man, that was some undertaking! The camps always made it worthwhile but it took an army of great helpers to move everything in and then return everything back to normal after the camp was over! The same situation happened at Millersville University (PA) and even at my high school, good old Francis Scott Key!

Our last few years of the week long camps were held at the Lake Placid OTC and that was an ideal situation!! Everything was right there under one roof – plenty of equipment, great meals and comfortable rooms. And, of course, the atmosphere was Olympic caliber!

The format of the weekly schedule changed a little over the years, but the expected work ethic and focus never changed. Typically, the athletes would come in on Sunday or Monday, and start right into the disciplined training and ending with a competition on Saturday. The first few camps included weightlifting, of course, but there was a fitness and testing component as well. Gradually, the focus become less on fitness and more on heavy duty lifting along with lectures on nutrition, recovery, injury prevention, and mental training. Camps were “open” so we got a variety of skill and experience. Lifters were broken up into “novice” and “advanced” abilities and were given separate workouts during each training session. The less experienced lifters worked on technique with lighter weights while the more experienced lifters had a heavy duty workout planned, still working on technique throughout, of course.

Speaking of heavy training, the plan always included either double or triple workouts every day. Trust me, by the end of the week, no one could say they didn’t work hard enough! We worked hard throughout the week, giving a bit of a taper on Thursday and Friday and then ending camp with a competition on Saturday before departing. The amazing thing is that even after lifting so hard and heavy all week, there will still PRs on that competition day! You would expect that supercompensation would set in a week or so later, but everyone tended to bounce back quickly!

Obviously, the primary goal of the camps was training and education of our athletes. But we placed an additional emphasis on developing coaches at these camps. I was the head coach, but we always brought in several assistant coaches so that they could get additional experience and so the lifters could hear different voices and cues rather from just one. This turned out to be a great learning experience for both lifter and coach.

Additionally, we had another avenue for developing coaches. Coinciding with the training, we had either a Senior Coach or Regional Coach course running simultaneously. (the equivalent of the Level 2 and Level 3 later on). The athletes would come in on Day One while the Senior or Regional Coach candidates would come in Day Two and stay until the end. The prospective coaches got the great experience of working with the athletes during training and during the down times between workouts, they got all the lectures that came along with the course. Then, they got the additional bonus of being able to work with 2-3 different athletes in the competition on Saturday. It was an awesome experience for these new young coaches and the athletes benefitted as well.

But, arguably the highlight of every camp was either dinner out on the town on the last Friday of the week or, when the camp was at Gettysburg College for several years, picnic, barbecue and volleyball at Casa Totten!

Over the years, the full weeklong camp worked out extremely well! But, eventually, it became evident that asking most people to take off for a week during the summer to put themselves through a rigorous camp was getting a bit too much for most. So, change of direction!

Instead of a full week, we changed it up to be just a 3 day camp. It would still be intense and super focused, but just consolidated. Friday was registration and a single workout in the evening, followed by a TRIPLE workout on Saturday, then a double workout on Sunday, ending by 4:00pm or so. That was some intense training – 6 workouts in less than 48 hours! Plus we got some lectures and mobility in between, so the campers got quite the experience!

Our first location for this trial camp was at CrossFit Rife in Virginia Beach with Phil Sabatini and his crew and it was a huge success! Now, these 3 day versions of camp are a lot easier for lifters and coaches to get to rather than giving up a whole week. Walt Neubauer and his Wilmington Weightlifting crew have jumped in to run a few of these camps along with the Virginia Beach crew, so between the two locations, you can’t beat that environment!!

2019 Virginia Beach Camp

So, after 32 years of week long camps and now another 4 years of weekend camps, the tradition continues!! Still going strong!! Be on the lookout for upcoming ECG weightlifting camps and join the fun!!

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