June 23, 2011

Training Variation

If you have been following this blog for sometime you might notice a few general themes in how I approach programming the training of competitive Olympic Weightlifters.  Mostly that my programs are based around the specificity of the competition lifts (Snatch and Clean & Jerk) in which I emphasize single lifts performed at a higher intensity over repeated doubles and triples at lower weights, and a high frequency approach where the lifts are performed multiple times per week.  

I do not like to label it as anything more than "training" but it is what I have seen work over time, and it is how I program the training of lifters with whom I consult.  

This approach is used at least 6 months out of the year, mostly in the time periods leading up to competition, with the remainder of the year providing very basic periodization of strength work and variations in training of the comp lifts with a different emphasis depending on the needs of an individual lifter.

In reality, everything works given the right environment, attitude, and personnel. Half the fun of training and coaching is experimenting with new approaches (within reason) and learning to understand what may work better.

The use of planned variation in training; including new exercises, different loading patterns (like the Squat Ladders), or just non-specific movements that are fun to perform can sometimes give a much need break from the same old training day in and day out. Training variation can address weakness, correct errors in technique, and many times the the psychological benefits are more important than the physiological benefit. 

Which leads us to this video posted below, appropriately titled "Not just the Snatch and Clean & Jerk".   The following is a clip from the Korean National Team training hall posted in 2008.  I know nothing of the video besides what is shown here...very unique exercise variations, pulls from various positions, and an emphasis on submaximal weights performed with precision.  Although not found in this video clip, the above picture, of an athlete lifting in front of a mirror, was taken from a similar Korean training clip also found on Youtube.

Give it a quick look as it might give you a few ideas of something new to try in your own training. **I suggest watching with the sound off unless you want to hear the Super Mario Bros theme (don't ask, I didn't make it)**

June 20, 2011

Squat First, Squat Last

One of the more frequent questions I receive in regards to programming is the placement of squats in a training session.  The squat, front or back, is an accessory exercise and as such is given less emphasis than the competition lifts.  

However, the relationships between squat load and the competition lifts are pretty well reported, meaning as the squat load increases so will the snatch and clean & jerk, assuming an appropriate amount of time is spent performing the comp lifts in addition to the squats…which is really another post entirely.

For those who have downloaded the Free Training Course or purchased “The Next 8-Weeks” ebook you may have seen that I am in favor of performing the squat either first or last in a training session.

Squatting last is pretty common.  The slow grinding nature of a heavy set of squats can induce a large amount of fatigue in a lifter.  The timing and coordination needed to perform the snatch and clean & jerk require that you are fresh to receive the greatest benefit.  During periods of high volume training, adding squats at the end of the session are a quick and easy way to further increase total volume without having to perform an excessive number of comp lifts, to the point where technique may degrade due to fatigue.

Squatting first in the session is not that common in all training programs. Besides the snatch and clean & jerk, the squat is the most important exercises a lifter can perform and deserves some emphasis in the program. Putting them first, allows you to improve strength and increase training load, and in some cases improve technique in that exercise as well. 

Squatting first takes a little getting used to in the sense that the exercise performance immediately afterwards may decrease slightly due to fatigue; but this should improve over time as you are conditioned to the training load.  I use squats first pretty frequently in my programs, usually 1-2 days per week but only during periods of training at least 4-weeks out from competition. The time period immediately before a meet requires focus on the competition lifts.  Further out from a meet, squatting first allows you to really push the weight used in the exercise which should lead to an improvement in competition total, or at minimum the training loads used prior to competition.  

An easy way to adjust your training to squatting first may be to use 2 days per week to squat heavy and then perform the comp lifts (or variations) at a lower intensity.  The other 2-3 days per week, the comp lifts are performed at higher intensities first in the session.  

June 13, 2011


One of the biggest problems facing novice weightlifters is consistency in performing the competition lifts.  Learning the proper technique is an ongoing process for some lifters, but after a few training sessions (at most a few weeks) most lifters generally know what they are supposed to do with the barbell to successfully perform the lifts.  The problem is then being able to perform the lifts with solid technique and under load the same way over and over again. 

This is often the limiting factor in progressing further in the sport and advancing their competition total.  

Most lifters will say they struggle with learning technique, when in reality they struggle with the ability to consistently demonstrate the same technique.

One day everything flows smoothly and the lifts are quick, crisp, and everything feels right.  Then, for whatever reason, everything falls apart.  The bar doesn’t go where it is supposed to, everything is out of place, and nothing is in sync.  We have all been there…even for the best lifters in the country, as I have seen it occur.  The main difference between the advanced lifters and the up and coming novice is usually the time between “those days”.  The advanced lifters maybe has one a month, where the novice has them much more frequently.  Sort of like a golf swing.  Anyone can hit it perfect once or twice a round, but what separates the Pros from the Joes is the ability to do it every round.

The best way to develop consistency is practice…years and years of practice.  One of the major shortcomings of the US lifters at the international level is time in the sport compared to lifters in Europe and Asia.  Catching up is possible, but it will take time. For those who came to the sport late, or those that do not plan on making competing in Olympic Weightlifting a life long pursuit, years of practice may not be an option so here are a couple of basic suggestions:

Choose a program that enables you to perform the competition lifts at a high frequency.  I have written about this is some detail previously (Frequency, Programs), and there are numerous examples of effective programs, but for a new lifter you have to perform the lifts if you want to get better at the lifts…novel concept, I know.  For those who come from a powerlifting background or bodybuilding, it is still not uncommon to only perform an exercise one time per week (i.e. Bench Press of Monday, Chest Day).  To compete in Olympic Weightlifting this is not really an option.  Everyday has to have some form of competition lift, performed with some level of effort.  This does NOT mean that you are neglecting “strength” work by spending more time training the comp lifts; it just means you are practicing your sport, like any good athlete. 
Every set and rep has to be performed as close as possible.  This does not mean just the Snatch and C&J.; but also all similar exercises.  Take an extra second to ensure the placement of the feet, the grip width on the barbell, and the rhythm with which the lift is identical.  When using accessory exercises, this is equally important.  If performing a Hang Snatch, make sure the grip and where the bar contact the hips is the same as when performing a Snatch or Power Snatch.  When performing a RDL, use the same grip and stance as when performing Cleans.  Even on somewhat minor, insignificant movements, strive for consistency.  If you are performing the Press, and the bar is cleaned from the floor to the shoulders, do it as you would an actual Power Clean…even if is “only” 50kg.  The extra practice is good for you. 
I may revisit this topic in a future post as I think there are many little things that can be helpful.  If you have something that you have used to help with your consistency, and you think it will benefit others, drop a comment below.

June 6, 2011

On the Minute

Now that I am back training in a real Olympic Weightlifting gym (BlackBox FW) my frequency and consistency of performing the competition lifts will increase drastically over the next few weeks.  In order to condition my body to handle the increased workload and work on technique, I am going to revert back to a “system” that was used back in the WFW days with good success…One Rep on the Minute.

I first used this plan during my time working with Glenn Pendlay, with the concept borrowed from the Westside Barbell Dynamic Effort days, where a submaximal weight is lifted with limited rest periods used between sets, usually performing one set every minute For my purposes every other training session will start with 8 to 12 reps, up to 20 in some cases, in the Snatch and Clean & Jerk with a timer set and every minute that comes off the clock a rep is performed. Most days only one weight will be used for each exercise, a weight heavy enough to get a solid training effect but also light enough to perform all reps, other days the weights may range from 70-85% of Max depending on the day.  The remainder of the session may include squats or more competition lifts performed at a higher intensity with longer rest periods.  

Training Example:
          Snatch; 8-12 reps on the minute @ 75% 
          Clean&Jerk; 8-12 reps on the minute @ 75%
          Front Squat 3 x 3 @ 85%, 3 x 1 @ 90%
          Rack Jerk up to Max, then 3 x 1 @ 85%

It has been a few years since I trained like this so we’ll see what happens in the coming weeks.  I prefer this method over doubles and triples (sets of 2 and 3 reps) because it allows me to focus on the set-up and execution of one rep at a time.  The timed interval helps keep everything on task and forces your body to adapt pretty quickly to performing a high number of lifts in a short period of time.