Try to make a new PR for a set of 5 on the squat.
Try to make a new push press PR for a set of 5.
If you are successful and make 2 PR’s I’ll buy you lunch the next time I see you.
Try to make a new PR for a set of 5 on the squat.
Try to make a new push press PR for a set of 5.
If you are successful and make 2 PR’s I’ll buy you lunch the next time I see you.
Those of you who follow this blog know that I normally stay out of the politics of weightlifting. I usually do my own little thing and leave the governance of the sport to people who like that sort of thing. Or at least dislike it less than I do. And when I do feel strongly about something, normally it is only the lifters I coach and a few friends that hear about it.
But I am going to address a current issue publicly now because I think it is important.
The 2013 International Event Qualification Procedures are being voted on by the Board of Directors on Wednesday, January 16th and I have a big disagreement with some of it.
As it stands now, we have several qualification competitions for each international event. The US team for an international event like the World Championships is determined by how athletes do at these qualifying competitions. It is pretty cut and dried, the person who lifts the most wins. Comparing between weight classes is done using a formula that is predetermined. At the end of the last qualifying competition, everyone knows who made the team, and who did not.
That is about to change if the 2013 Qualification Procedures is passed by the Board of Directors in its current form.
The current language allows athletes who have “made” the team via the qualifying competitions, along with athletes who failed to make the team, to all be invited to a training camp at the OTC during the time period between the last qualifier and the competition.
During this training camp, athletes who did not make the team via the qualification competitions can displace athletes who did and take their place on the team. In the event that an athlete is not able to travel to and attend the training camp, he or she can be displaced on the team by an athlete who was able to travel to and attend the camp.
I believe this is discriminatory against athletes who do not live at the OTC, and may not be able to come to the camps to “defend” their place on a team. Most athletes outside of the OTC (and most of the athletes who make international teams do NOT live at the OTC) go to school, or have jobs. Many of these athletes simply cannot drop out of their normal life to go to Colorado Springs for one or two weeks. Most of the coaches of these athletes cannot drop out of their normal lives to go spend time in Colorado Springs. The athletes who do not attend are left without a fair chance to defend the team slot that they have earned through the qualification competitions. Athletes who might be able to attend, but their coach cannot, are also left at a disadvantage when in competition for a team slot with athletes whose coaches can attend.
In addition to that, opening up the qualifying procedures to events outside of open, sanctioned weightlifting competitions also could add a degree of subjectivity to the selection process. Even the best of us can favor individuals we like or are even just more familiar with without being conscious of it. Who are the athletes most likely hurt by any subjectivity that might creep in? Athletes who are not OTC residents, and athletes who might not have a coach that is able to make the trip. The same people who are least likely to be able to attend the camps.
I understand that this language is being inserted to deal with some perceived problems with our present selection process. But there are other ways to fix problems without opening the can of worms that this proposal opens. For instance, some feel that our qualifying meets are too far away from the international competitions. A reasonable solution would be to move the qualifying competitions closer in time to the international competitions, or if that is not possible, introduce another sanctioned competition closer international meet in question.
Whatever we do, let’s keep our qualifying procedures for international competition limited to sanctioned competitions where everyone has an equal chance to compete and win or lose on the platform. Let us NOT introduce procedures that lead to an athletes place of residence, job situation, financial situation, as well as their coaches situation give them an advantage or disadvantage.
Here is the URL for the 2013 International Event Qualification Procedures if you want to read it for yourself.
Here are the names and contact info for the Board of Directors. They are meeting Wednesday, January 16. If you agree with me please contact someone on the board, and let them know how you feel.
Name Membership Area Represented E-mail
CJ Bennett Grassroots email@example.com
Terry Grow Grassroots firstname.lastname@example.org
David Boffa Athlete Rep email@example.com
Ari Sherwin Independent firstname.lastname@example.org
Artie Drechsler At Large, Chair email@example.com
Ursula Papandrea Technical firstname.lastname@example.org
Les Simonton Technical email@example.com
Jennifer Ullman Independent firstname.lastname@example.org
Emmy Vargas Athlete Rep / AAC Rep email@example.com
Michael Graber At Large firstname.lastname@example.org
Although within the sport of weightlifting this “debate” is ridiculous and has been recognized as such from the start, it still persists on various message boards around the internet. Wherever a shortage of experience and common sense exist, it rears it’s ugly head. This will be yet another attempt to slay this beast, and it will no doubt fail. Nevertheless, let us continue.
Let us imagine that the level of a lifters strength and technique are both illustrated by having a certain number of pebbles. Let us suppose that one could have between 0 and 100 “strength pebbles”. Zero indicates an inability to do a squat with your own body weight, no bar or weight added. 100 indicates a complete and total realization of any and all strength you could possibly have given your genetic potential. The technique pebbles operate along the same lines, and it is the person WITH THE MOST TOTAL PEBBLES THAT WILL LIFT THE MOST WEIGHT!
Now to make this realistic, let’s add a couple more conditions. First of all, let us assume that as you accumulate pebbles, whether they are strength pebbles or technique pebbles, each pebble of that particular variety becomes harder and harder to pick up and hold on to. So it is relatively easy to pick up the first 20 strength pebbles, and even easier to retain them. This might represent going from not being able to squat your own body down and up unassisted to being able to squat with a 150lb bar. Very easy to achieve that, and given any level of activity or training whatsoever, easy to maintain. But with each pebble you accumulate, picking it up becomes harder, as well as retaining it. So much so that picking up the last 10 is more difficult than the first 90. After all, isn’t going from a 500lb squat to a 600lb squat harder, and more time consuming, than getting up to 500lbs in the first place? It is for most people.
Second, let us suppose that once either strength or technique get a certain amount ahead of the other, further increases are useless and don’t count. After all, you might have the most beautiful pull in the world, and a transition to going under the bar that is poetry in motion, but if you are not strong enough to stand up with the weight, it is wasted. And if you are pulling the bar in a manner that makes bicep strength the limiting factor, is increasing the squat going to help you? Are your biceps ever going to be strong enough to break a world record? No, there is after all a reason why Zydrunas Savickas is not the Olympic gold medalist in weightlifting.
Think about these conditions and what they mean. If your imagination is lacking, let me help you out!
1.) To lift the largest weights, it takes a high level of strength AND a high level of technique.
2.) A relative lack of either quality makes subsequent focus on the other quality inefficient and self-limiting.
3.) Achieving a balance of both qualities is always the easiest and quickest way to a given level of performance.
4.) We should all be trying to increase both qualities, with a focus on whichever is lacking the most.
5.) There is no reasonable argument to be made that either quality should be prioritized to the point of letting the other fall behind.
So there it is, simple and logical. And it will make no difference whatsoever to those engaged in this silly debate.
It seems that with the recent increase in popularity of weightlifting in the USA, I have seen a lot more questions about the best way for an experienced weight trainer to transition into the sport. You know, the guy or gal who has done bench presses and squats for a while, who already has a reasonable amount of basic strength and and a bit of muscle to go with it.
Such folks are often frustrated by normal beginner routines. Why? They are used to training hard, and because they often start off with the ability to snatch or clean and jerk only very low percentages of their squat, deadlift, or bench press, they often don’t feel like they are getting much of a workout. This can become very frustrating for a person used to pushing themselves to the limit several times a week on general strength exercises. And their strength and size, especially in the upper body, often temporarily regresses because the majority of the work they are doing, while challenging technically, is not really challenging from a muscular perspective.
This isn’t a problem for your typical beginner with little or no weight training experience. For such a person, snatches and clean and jerks, even with weights limited more by technique than strength, along with a bit of pressing and squatting adds strength and muscle. But for the guy with a 300lb bench, a 450lb squat, and 2-3 years of hard training under his belt, it is unlikely this will be the case.
These people might be well served by an introduction into the sport that is a little different, something that lets them transition from their old style of training a bit slower, and allows them to maintain and hopefully even improve their level of basic strength and muscle size as they learn to do the snatch and clean and jerk. I have used a program several times that I believe accomplishes this fairly well.
The basis for this program is in the programs written by Dr. Mike Stone in the 1980’s, and the basic template is still in use today at various places with a few minor changes. Maybe the most notable is LSUS, where it is used by Kendrick Farris and his teammates training under Kyle Pierce. Justin Lascek recommends a similar program to the “70’s big” community, a very weightlifting friendly bunch of folks who’s main goal is getting, well, 70’s big, as well as growing facial hair and wearing flannel. I have used the program here and there from the late 1990’s till today with various lifters ranging from those transitioning from powerlifting to weightlifting, to competitive lifters who want a “rest” cycle after a major contest, and want to back off a bit on the competitive lifts temporarily but still maintain progress when it comes to overall strength.
This is a 4 day a week program, and the premise is very simple, as is usually the case with good programming. Two days a week you practice the snatch and clean and jerk, and 2 days a week you squat and press.
And honestly, that is the only sentence in this whole blog that is really important. Sure, I started out by explaining the need for this program, then building some credibility by explaining where it comes from and who has used it. And I will finish by supplying some details because no one would pay much attention to a blog containing two sentences.
But the reality is people who are in the position to use this program, experienced weight trainers who have built a decent amount of muscle and strength, already have the experience necessary to fill in the details themselves. In spite of this, here are the details.
I think the best way to set this up is to do your snatches and clean and jerks on Monday and Thursday, and your squatting and strength exercises on Tuesday and Saturday. This does not mean that you have to do it on those days, but those days have worked for me.
Practice on the Olympic lifts means just that, there is no magical rep scheme. If you normally work out for 90 minutes, aim to practice for 90 minutes, split up between the two lifts. If you lack mobility then much of this time, at least initially, might be taken up by work on mobility. In some circumstances, your time working on snatch might initially be taken up just trying to attain an overhead squat position. It is possible that initially the bulk of your time in the gym on these days you might just have an empty bar in your hands. But as is always the case, you will get better as time goes on and at some point you will gradually start to handle more and more challenging weights. Use your common sense when doing these workouts, challenge you yourself but don’t do so much as to interfere with your strength training.
When it comes to your squatting and pressing, if you can’t figure this out for yourself, then you are not really in the population that I am aiming at with this blog. If you are in the target population, you have already raised your squat at least a hundred pounds and probably more, use your head and do what you have to in order to keep gaining. Experiment with including front squats. Most people who do general strength routines bench press, whatever has been working, keep it up. But consider adding an emphasis to overhead stuff like presses and push presses, and de-emphasising the bench press.
When do you advance beyond such a routine? Well, my experience tells me that the need for such a “hybrid” program fades when a lifter is snatching 50% or more of his or her backsquat, or clean and jerking 65% of more of his or her back squat. But let common sense be your guide. At some point the weights on the snatch and clean and jerk will be heavy enough that it will no longer simply be “practice”, it will be real live strength training! And if you had 2-3 years of strength training behind you before you started Olympic lifting, and then have taken enough time to achieve decent form and decent weights on the competitive lifts using this routine, you should be equipped with enough experience and knowledge to know where to go from here.
Ok, so you have read Part I, and you are snatching, clean and jerking, and squatting. Easy enough. Common sense should eventually allow you to fill in most of the details yourself, but a few hints might help things along.
1. Choosing the number of reps.
For the snatch and clean and jerk, trying anything above 3 reps should be self-correcting eventually. Most who try sets of 5 on the clean and jerk with any decent load quickly abandon the notion that the competitive lifts can be trained with high reps. Most (maybe all?) accomplished lifters use sets of 1-3 almost exclusively for a reason. And singles or doubles are probably far more popular than triples.
But is there a magic rep scheme? No. Some people train very productively using doubles and triples mostly. Some use nothing but singles. I like to mix it up a little, and I even include sets of 5 on the hang snatch every once in a while for a change of pace. There really is no right or wrong answer.
2. Choosing the structure of workouts.
Doing the snatch first, then clean and jerk, then squat is the most popular way to structure a workout. And any time one particular way of doing things is the most popular by lifters from all over the world over many decades you should pay attention, because there is probably a reason it is popular. In this case, snatches don’t seem to interfere with what you can accomplish in the clean and jerk or squat if those things are done after snatch, but heavier exercises (like clean and jerk or squats) do seem to interfere with snatchiing if they are done before the snatch. And, once you are in decent shape, the competitive exercises interfere much less with squats if squats are at the end of the workout than squats interfere with the competitive exercises if squats are done first.
One exception to this is to do front squats with a very low volume prior to the competitive lifts, some do this and it seems to work just fine. If your leg strength is a serious weakness you might experiment with this. But if there are no special considerations, snatch, clean and jerk, then squat will probably work fine for you.
Within one movement, how do you structure your lifts? Well any way you want to, really. Or at least any way that leads to gradually increasing the weights over time. One popular way is to do a series of singles, doubles or triples within a workout all at the same weight, and try to increase this working weight over time. Another way is to just work up to a daily max, then add volume to the workout be either taking weight off and working back to another max a time or two, or by adding in a few doubles or triples or even more singles a few kilos lighter than your best for the day. Either works. Something in between would work. Anything where you are challenging yourself and gradually increasing weight over time works.
3. Choosing the weekly or monthly plan
The simplest weekly program is to snatch, clean and jerk, and squat 3 non-consecutive days per week. As was discussed in part I snatch or clean and jerk variations can be substituted for the competition exercises if there is a good reason. Keeping in mind that one should endeavor to never get too far away from doing heavy competition lifts on a regular basis, setting aside Friday or your third workout of the week for going as heavy as possible for singles on the competition lifts is a worthwhile strategy. The first two training days of the week can be used for doubles or triples (if you do them) or variations of the lifts (if you do them). Setting aside at least one workout per week as a “test” day for the competitive lifts can keep you grounded in what is really important, namely snatching and clean and jerking more for 1 rep at a time.
Planning over a month, or even several months, can be as simple or complicated as you want it. People (especially beginners) have been plenty successful with virtually NO planning at all. Just continually challenging themselves to beat PR’s in the various training lifts.
But many cannot deal with the mental and physical boredom of doing the exact same thing all the time, so a bit of variation over time is valuable for a lot of people. There is nothing wrong with paying extra attention to pushing the squat up at certain times of the year, and limiting the volume of training on the snatch and clean and jerk to help accomplish this. Focusing more on variations of the lifts and doubles and triples for a while further out from a contest, and gradually concentrating more and more on the competition lifts for singles as a contest approaches is a very viable plan. Just be sure that if you do opt for variety, you don’t stray to far or for to long away from the basics.
4. Final thoughts
Remember that success in weightlifting is defined by snatching and clean and jerking more. It is not defined by having a huge squat or carrying an impressive workload in training. To be sure, those things can certainly contribute to increasing the competitive lifts, but don’t let them become an end unto themselves.
If you follow these basic recommendations (Part I and Part II) and use a bit of common sense, you have plenty of tools to design a good beginners program. This is far from an exhaustive treatise on programming, but as your need for more advanced strategies and fine-tuning grows, so will your experience and knowledge.
Keep a workout log, and take good notes. When you change your program, try to change one thing at a time, and give the change a reasonable amount of time to work before you abandon it. Approach things in a systematic way, and with every week and every success and failure you will add to your knowledge of how your body reacts to training and what you need to do to snatch more and clean and jerk more.
And finally, I would like to leave you with two quotes. Both come from men who have had a significant impact on American weightlifting, and both become more and more meaningful as your knowledge and experience in the sport grow.
“The worst program in the world, if you believe in it 100%, is better than a great program that you don’t believe in.” – Lynn Jones
“I can tell you everything I know about weightlifting in 15 minutes. But it will take you 15 years to understand what I am talking about.” – Joe Mills
Nothing generates controversy in the world of weightlifting more than programming. Well, except for proper technique, who coached who, and drugs. But all that aside, there are plenty of arguments about how to program, and I would like to present some simple steps to follow that should allow just about anyone to write a decent program, no controversy needed.
Step 1 – Do enough snatching to make progress on the snatch.
Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Well it is simple, but there are some qualifications to help you along. Beginners can usually become steadily better at the snatch with only 2-3 sessions of snatches a week. As you progress, you will usually find that adding sessions helps keep the progress coming. But don’t dismiss snatching 3 times a week as only for rank beginners, plenty of people have snatched big weights training the lift 3 times a week. So start with 2-3 snatch sessions a week, and use common sense as a guide.
When you do snatch, what exactly do you do? There are of course many snatch variations to choose from. I recommend using the competition style lift as your default position, if there are no special considerations, do full snatches from the floor. But, there are many reasons why you might want to do something else for one or more of your snatch sessions. If your technique is bad or you are just learning the lift, you might want to include partial lifts, such as the snatch from the hip. Variations like this are simpler, make it easier to do at least part of the lift correctly, and help reinforce good technique. There are a million variations, educate yourself on the possibilities, and include those you think will help. But keep in mind that the default should always be the actual competition lift, and barring a good reason, those should make up the bulk of your training.
Step 2 – Do enough clean and jerks to make progress on the clean and jerk.
All the advice for the snatch applies. The one further consideration is that the clean and jerk is two movements that can be separated. As with the snatch, if there are no special considerations, do the whole lift as it is done in competition. But if technique is bad or you are just learning, you can simplify it to make it easier to learn good technique on part of the lift at a time. You can do cleans by themselves, or jerk from a rack or block without cleaning the weight first. Separating the lifts this way often makes it easier to work on one particular deficiency. But even if you find this useful, try to do the clean and jerk in competition style at least once a week.
Step 3 – Get stronger.
Squats are the most important strength exercise for weightlifters. Others that are valuable include front squats, push presses and presses, RDL’s and pulls with a snatch or clean grip. But the most important is squats, and squats can be sufficient by themselves.
There are a million strength programs available. Most will work if you put the work in, but squatting 2-3 times a week for multiple sets at a medium rep ange (4-6) is popular in weightlifting and general strength training circles for a reason. Let that form the basis of your default strength program unless there is a good reason to do something different.
So there you go. The backbone of a weightlifting program.
In Part II I will talk about some of the details.
I assume that most people reading this know how to type properly. But ignore that for a moment, and imagine that you are just now being presented with a QWERTY keyboard for the first time in your life and I asked you to type a simple sentence. How would you do it? I bet you would use the hunt and peck method.
And if someone, some great teacher of typing, had 60 minutes to teach you to put your fingers on the middle line, index fingers on the letters F and J, and type properly? Well, my bet is that you would still be able to type a given sentence faster and more error free just hunting and pecking.
But if there was a world championship of typing (is there such a thing?) I am sure no one would be hunting and pecking. The upper limit of human genetic potential to type fast is simply higher when using all your fingers properly than when using only 2 of them. So if you want to be the best typist in the world, or even just the bet typist you can be, put your fingers on the keys properly, look away from the keyboard, and start to practice. Sure you will be slower than normal at first, and make more mistakes, but at some point you will be typing faster than any hunter and pecker ever could.
In the same way you must use your body properly while cleaning or snatching a bar or your ultimate potential will be lower than it could have been, and there will be a period while learning to move properly that you will actually be able to lift less using “good” technique than if you used “bad” technique. Most people can move an empty bar slowly through the correct positions from the shins to the hips within a very short time of being taught what the positions are, and properly extend and catch the bar soon after. But, as you speed the movement up and add weight, all beginners will reach a point where they miss the proper positions and their form deteriorates away from the form that will yield the highest ultimate potential for the weight they can lift.
But just where this deterioration happens can’t be accurately predicted for a beginning lifter. Person to person, and day to day for the same person, it varies. Given a particular day and a particular lifter, this deterioration might happen at 30kg or 100kg, at 50% of maximum, or 80%. Yet, at some point, sooner for some and later for others, your best lifts will be achieved with a movement pattern basically the same as the movement pattern that will ultimately let you lift the highest potential weights. When you deviate from this movement pattern, you will miss, when you maintain it, you will make lifts.
But if you’re not there yet, stop adding weight and moving faster when you miss your positions, don’t wait till you are missing lifts. Slow down, and practice doing it correctly even if you could do more by moving incorrectly. Yeah, it can be frustrating to do that, but millions of people have done it when they learned to type. Frustration or not, you can certainly do it when learning to lift.
One of the things that intimidated the hell out of me back in the early 90’s was the huge amount of training systems available, and trying to choose between them. Bulgarian. Russian. Go to maximum every day if you want to progress. Going to max too often stunts progress. Pulls are key. Pulls are useless. The Hatch system. The Calpian system. The Greek system.
How do you choose? I mean even the most productive coaches argue endlessly about what is right and what is wrong, how in the world is a beginner to know?
I heard something from a Bulgarian lifter a few years back that really made me stop and think about this. He said “Why is everyone in the US always arguing about what training system is best? We all do the same system. We snatch, we clean and jerk, and we squat. The rest is just useless details.”
The more I thought about this the more it made sense, and it even made me smile a little bit. I mean, if you think about all the things people do in the weight room, we weightlifters do all train pretty similarly, don’t we?
If you put 3 weightlifters training their snatch in a group of 100 “regular guys” in a gym, will it be hard to spot the weightlifters? Will it matter if one of them is doing snatch pulls, or one is power snatching? Will it matter if one is going to maximum then dropping down to do some lighter doubles, and the other is working with percentages, starting with a series of doubles at 80 and 85 percent, then ending with singles at 90, 92.5, and 95 percent?
No, of course it won’t matter at all. One would instantly know who the weightlifters are. What they are doing is alike enough (and different enough from what all the “regular guys” are doing) to immediately know they are all doing the same sport, something different than the others.
Makes me think about how similar this situation is to playing the piano. Now, I don’t know anything about learning to play the piano. I have no musical instruction or talent whatsoever. But I know that the most important fact about learning to play the piano is that you will have to sit down at the piano and make an attempt to hit the right keys at the right time with the right fingers. Strumming a guitar won’t do it, running or lifting weights or perfecting your jump shot won’t do it, only sitting in front of that piano will do it. Sure there are good piano instructors and bad piano instructors, and I would imagine that there are a whole bunch of different methods and drills and theories about how to best learn to play. But isn’t the particular method or drill pretty irrelevant compared to the fact that you are sitting in front of a piano and hitting keys as opposed to outside working on your jump shot?
When you realize that the most important thing about the training of a weightlifter is that we train the snatch, the clean and jerk, and squat, and that the rest is just details (and it might not even matter how the details get filled in), the whole process gets a lot less intimidating.
About 7 or 8 years ago I thought seriously about writing a book about weightlifting. There were of course many good (and a few great) books on the sport available, but I didn’t think the one that would have helped ME the most when I first started had been written yet. And that is the book I wanted to write.
As I am all too prone to do, I put some work into it and then didn’t finish. Raising kids, building a business, coaching, moving, etc, all took away from that couple of hours a day that you have to sit down and write every day if you ever want to finish a book. Over the past few years I have tried to start again here and there. I have produced some pages of manuscript, but always stopped for one reason or another.
But, I think the time is right go ahead and finish. So I have decided to publish some excerpts from what is finished so far for motivation, and maybe some feedback. This is the first of several excerpts that I plan to put on this blog. Hope you like where I decided to go with the book.
I can remember reading some of the material written on weightlifting way back when I first got interested in the sport. Stuff like Bud Charniga’s translated Russian texts, or Verkoshansky’s book “Supertraining”. Excellent books, and they were as interesting as they could be. But I was often left with the feeling of “ok, that was all really cool, but when I go to the gym tomorrow, how do I apply that information”. How do I use what I just read to pick exercises, weights, sets, and reps to do?
Not because stuff like that isn’t great stuff (it is) but with much of the better material written on weightlifting, there has been a definite assumption by the author that the reader knows or understands certain things about the sport before picking up the book. Since I didn’t have this assumed basic knowledge at the time it was fairly frustrating to read them. I knew there was some really great information, but was not quite be able to understand it well enough to apply it.
Then you have a book like Arthur Dreschler’s “Encyclopedia of Weightlifting”. One of my favorite books and one I think that every weightlifter, and everyone who uses the any variation of the competitive lifts in training in any capacity for that matter, should own. There is probably not one single fact that a beginner needs to know that is not in that book. But I have heard from many a beginner that the book is simply overwhelming in the detail it covers, and that because it is a mostly descriptive book, describing many different approaches to training instead of advocating one system, that again, it can be read by a rank beginner and still leave one with the feeling of “that was great, but I’m still not sure what I need to do when I go to the gym tomorrow.
And that is why 7 or 8 years ago when I first considered the possibility of writing a book about weightlifting, I decided I definitely wanted it to be something that a total beginner could read and feel comfortable with. Feel like he or she could apply the information directly to planning the next workout, or week of workouts, and actually have an understanding of the process of developing a training process, and training. Demystify the process, so to speak.