Training Intensity Percentages as Used in Weightlifting

In Weightlifting, it is a common practice to use percentages (of best lifts) as a means to set the desired intensity of the athlete’s training in any given day. Intensity is measure of how hard or how difficult the training is. The following table provides an example of how words like “heavy” or “light” can be quantified by using training intensity percentages:

Table of training intensity in Weightlifting

The  percentages in the left column are worked from the athlete’s personal best lift. Thus, if following the percent bands in Figure 1 above, for an athlete who has a best Snatch of 100Kg, the very heavy range begins at 93Kg, the heavy range is 88-92Kg, and so on. The actual boundaries between each of these percent bands are arbitrary. By this I mean that other coaches will likely have different ideas as to where these boundaries lie. As always in the sport of Weightlifting, there is great delight among experienced coaches in finding some aspect of training methodology to debate, and certainly the above training intensity percentages will suffice in this regard!

There is a great need to provide athletes with guidance on how heavy to train (i.e. training intensity). If an athlete trains heavy on a very frequent basis, the likely result is a build up of stress, a failure to adequately recover between training sessions and a collapse of the athlete’s wellness. On the other hand, if the athlete’s training does not present sufficient stress, there is a likelihood that the athlete will make no improvement. Some level of stress is therefore vital for improvement of the athlete’s form, and training methodology is built around trying to get the level of stress just right. Hence, there is a need to quantify, in some way, the level of training stress experienced by the athlete. The use of training intensity percentages not only allows a coach to set limits on the level of stress to be experienced by the athlete but also enables intensity to be modified and manipulated relatively simply.

In this article, two methods for using percentages to quantify intensity will be discussed:

  • Method 1: Working percentages from an athlete’s best result on each and every exercise they undertake in training. This will require the athlete to have knowledge of their best result on more or less every exercise in their training schedule.
  • Method 2: Irrespective of whatever exercise is being performed, percentages are calculated according to the athlete’s best results on the competition platform. For example, percentages for squats are calculated from personal best Clean & Jerk.

In Method 1, if an athlete is assigned to train at 80% on a given day/session, they may perform all exercises at 80% of their best result for that exercise. Let’s say that athlete is scheduled to do Power Snatch, Jerk from Racks, Clean Pulls and Back Squats. Then, for each exercise, the athlete will need to know their personal best and calculate what is 80%. Here is another table to help:

Typical Method for Calculating and Using Training Intensity Percentages

This method has advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is simplicity, particularly when the program writer uses a spreadsheet to develop training programs. Provided the athlete’s 1RM is known for each of the scheduled exercises, it is simple to apply an training intensity percentages across a whole day’s training. In Figure 2 above, 80% (medium intensity) is applied across the whole training session and this saves time for the coach writing the athlete’s program.

The main disadvantage, and it is potentially a big flaw, is that this method has the potential to perpetuate the athlete’s strengths and weaknesses. Let’s suppose the athlete is relatively good in the Snatch but weak in the Clean and Jerk due to lack of leg strength. If the athlete is assigned to train at 80% (which is perhaps the most frequent training intensity) they will train equally hard on all exercises and the comparative strength issue will not be resolved. What is required is to skew the athlete’s training a little more towards improving their specific weaknesses. This can be achieved by simply prescribing a higher intensity of training on those exercises deemed to be the athlete’s weaknesses (see Figure 3 below – back squat percentages increased).

An example of assigning different training intensity percentages to different exercises

But now the simplicity of describing the intensity of the training session with just one figure is lost. Pretty soon, there will be a temptation to assign different training intensities to each exercise because of the athletes eccentricities e.g. good in the power snatch but not so good in the snatch, can clean more that the can jerk, strong when doing pulls compared to how much they can lift overhead, etc.

But perhaps that’s best! It is perhaps sound coaching to alter intensities according to individual strengths and weaknesses but there may be a better way.

In Method 2, the method preferred by the author, the training intensity for each and every exercise is worked from the athlete’s actual competition best lifts. Every snatch exercise is worked from best result on the platform for the snatch, and every other exercise (including squats) is worked from the athlete’s best competition clean & jerk. This method is more time costly in writing programs but reduces the problem of perpetuating weaknesses. Thus the athlete does not work percentages from personal bests for the clean, and for the jerk separately. Similarly, working percentages for back squats off their personal best clean & jerk, means the athlete with strong legs is less likely to expend unneeded effort on squats. For example, a gold standard is for the athlete to be able to perform ‘full depth’ Front Squat 100% (for 3 reps) of their competition best clean and jerk. Importantly, it is important to understand what full depth actually means for this standard to be relevant. But if any athlete can already Front Squat 110% of their best Clean & Jerk for 3 reps easily, Method 2  below will restrict them from putting additional effort into squats. Figure 4 below provides a standard for percent bands for performing 3 reps on the Front Squat.

Front Squat Intensity

Criticisms of Method 2

Of course, there will be many who will say that in Weightlifting you can never have enough leg strength, and of course they are correct. But the training capacity and time resources of every athlete is not infinite and therefore continuing to devote the same time and energy to one’s strengths in comparison to one’s weaknesses is not an optimal training strategy. If an athlete has already surpassed the markers for superior leg strength then some time and energy can be withdrawn from squatting and better spent elsewhere.

Another criticism of relating all the training percentages for all exercises back to the athlete’s best lifts on the competition platform, is that it still does not change situation for athletes who are weak in the Snatch compared to their Clean & Jerk, or weak in the Clean & Jerk compared to their Snatch. However, this method does have two features that can assist in rectifying individual weaknesses.

  • Feature 1: Method 2 enables the athlete to identify their weaknesses. For example, if an athlete generally struggles with the lift off the floor when performing Clean Pulls with 110% (3 reps) of their best Clean & Jerk, then there is evidence that pull strength is a major limiting factor. Yes, of course, this is common as many athletes struggle to get the bar moving off the floor but manage good acceleration later in the pull. But nonetheless, it is easier for the coach to see differences between athletes, some of whom have no difficulty lifting 110% off the floor while others struggle.
  • Feature 2: Method 2 enables the defining of training intensity percentages that will serve to create standards for all athletes in the gym. When the coach programs many athletes, for example, to perform Front Squats with 90% (3 reps) of best Clean & Jerk in a given training session, the result is that some athletes will struggle while others will find it easy. This is perhaps how it should be – those athletes that need to work harder on their Front Squats will do so.

For more information about using Percent Bands, click here.



Training frequency in Weightlifting: When to add another training session?

I was recently asked “what are the advantages and disadvantages/risks of adding an additional training session per week”. I am sure that readers will attest that this is a common question in some form or another.

In any club that caters for differing levels of experience and ability, it is likely that there are athletes training as little as 2 days a week and as much as as 6 days per week, and some even 9-11 sessions per week. At every level of experience, it is probable that athletes will ask the question ‘should I be doing more?’

The simple answer is of course that it depends on the ‘circumstances of the individual athlete’ but an answer of this nature does not really help. What’s really needed is a number of criteria that the athlete and the coach can consider to determine whether circumstances permit an additional training day.

Here are some suggested criteria for increasing training frequency:

 1  Does the athlete manage their present training load well?

The athlete needs to consistently demonstrate: (i) a high level of attendance at training (above 95%), (ii) missed training sessions are largely made up, (iii) completion of the prescribed training load in each training session unless modified by the coach, (iv) a positive state of mind about training and (v) an ability to train without chronic injury and soreness which affects performance.

For the average athlete training 3-4 days per week, these factors are relatively easy to understand. A simple answer of ‘YES’ to all elements of the criteria provides evidence that the athlete is ready to step up their training. But what if the the athlete is already training 5 or more sessions per week and doing very well? The greater the level of the athlete’s training input, the more cautious the decision must be to increase it further. The coach and the athlete must consider whether the athlete is getting the best out of their existing training before they should step up another session. But if the situations seems that they are, then it is a case of thinking about additional criteria as below.

 2 Has the athlete identified and given sufficient thought to the threats to holistic well-being that may arise from additional training time?

Athletes may well see the advantages in adding extra training time but often they fail to see the issues and problems that will likely arise. An additional training session per week will likely mean: (i) Less homework or study (for students) and more angst from parents, (ii) less time meeting family responsibilities including doing chores and jobs around the house, (iii) less time for social engagement (iv) greater feelings of fatigue which may effect work and study commitments.

Additional training time also means reduced recovery time between training sessions but the situation is not all bad! It could easily be the situation that (i) the athlete’s socialisation activities are a problem, (ii) more training time could mean less time slumped over laptops and tablets, (iii) the athlete appreciates the value of training and learns to order their priorities and take greater control of their lifestyle.

The point is that athletes should be encouraged to think about advantages and disadvantages not just from a training perspective but realize that they must be able to manage their everyday life in order for extra training to be a benefit.

 3  What are the athlete’s long-term goals?

In answering the question about additional training, much will depend on the athlete’s self-belief and their long-term goals. It would be good to know and compare the athlete’s goals at the start of the training and at periodic intervals of, say, one year. This would be a great study! But seriously there would be few athletes, at any age, that would start sport training with the deliberate intention to be a national champion or go to the Olympic Games. It is more likely that athletes will begin sport training because it looks like fun, or they perceive a health benefit, or it helps to widen the social network. As the training process ensues, the athlete will receive environmental signals about their ability. These signals may come from the results they achieve, the comments and encouragement received from the coach or team mates and/or the emotions that they experience as they pursue training and competition. Sport, after all, is highly emotive. These experiences tend to cause the athlete to revisit their goals and to consider whether the investment of more time and energy will bring a likelihood of greater success.

Therefore, when an athlete asks the question “should I add another training day” (or words to that effect), thought must really be given to the athlete’s psychological attributes and in particular their own self-belief. It is sometimes the case that an athlete will espouse goals along the lines of what they wish for (“I would like to . . . “) rather than what they intend firmly to pursue (“my goal is to . . .”).

The coach must seek to understand their athletes, interpret their goals and evaluate the level of their self-belief in order to provide advice as to whether more training will have a beneficial effect. The coach needs to be cautious in this regard. The athlete needs to carefully consider their goals, and to identify the advantages, disadvantages and risks of pursuing higher levels of training. As a practising coach, I tend not to make the first move but instead wait for the athlete to ask the question, as they inevitably do.

Expertly Written Olympic Weightlifting Programs

Reliable, well-written and professionally produced Olympic Weightlifting programs are now available on this website. Training programs available cover experience levels from novice to advanced athletes. More programs are being added weekly to cover the needs of athletes preparing for competitions in as short as 4 weeks and as long as 15 weeks. Longer duration programs are phased, for example – Preparatory Phase, Competition Phase.

The author (Leo Isaac) is well acquainted with training theory in Olympic Weightlifting having been a devotee of the sport for 42 years as an athlete, coach, director of coaching and lead coach educator in Australia.

A special feature of programming method used by Leo Isaac is “Volume Guide” which assist the program user with advice on the amount of warm-up sets, sets at the designated intensity and sets above the designated intensity at periodic intervals.

A key issue with written training programs in general is that they need to be individualized according to individual strengths and weaknesses. The advanced programs provided on this site provide a mechanism to add additional exercises for identified weaknesses and to incorporate morning training as well.

You will not find a better deal for Olympic Weightlifting programs anywhere on the Internet in terms of the number and variety of training programs that you can buy for very small dollars.

Find out more about Weightlifting Training Programs available

Conversation with athletes

Last night I had a pre-planned group conversation with athletes at the club after training. I am not entirely sure what was expected by the athletes but this session had been billed as an opportunity to discuss athlete responses to a club survey of opinions on training programs, coaching and factors that limit performance.

As the session proceeded, I attempted to probe the knowledge, attitudes and beliefs of the athletes as represented by the survey. Here’s an example of one of the survey questions: Continue reading

Coaching the youth beginner athlete

Coaches must be aware that the initial learning period of the beginner in Weightlifting is profoundly important and will leave an indelible impression. In the case of coaching children and/or young adults, there is an increased level of responsibility to ensure that the coaching methodology employed lives up to community expectations and provides the beginner with a good start to their career in the sport.

The following guidelines are provided to assist coaches working with children and young adults in Weightlifting:

Continue reading

Determining platform attempts in a Weightlifting competition

In the final days/weeks before a competition, athletes and coaches will generally discuss and make decisions about the athlete’s “competition plan”. This process can be quite simple or very elaborate depending on the importance of the competition, the level of experience of the athlete, and whether there is any need for tactics to respond to the athlete’s competitors. Continue reading

A coach’s plea

To my athletes, I would like to take a moment of your time to explain how I might see things differently about training, your training.

Last night was a designated ‘heavy’ session. I know that you very much look forward to such sessions in the hope that you can push beyond your present personal bests. Last night, many of you were rewarded for your efforts. Well done!

But as we head towards the next competition, there are some things I want you to keep uppermost in your mind. Continue reading

The Inner Journey

These days Weightlifting is fortunate to be well promoted via the Internet. There is an endless stream of videos and photos of people, of all levels, enjoying a moment of achievement and preserving the memory digitally. Coaches post videos on social media to display the prowess of their athletes, business owners post to encourage potential new members and athletes create reciprocal posts to encourage and support each other. There is also a constant supply of articles to read which attempt to explain the ins and outs of technique, uncover the hidden secrets of strength development and provide opinion about the daily organisation of training. Occasionally, authors of articles comment on other aspects of the sport such as the recruitment of participants, the structure of competitions and the standards of performance at national and international level. All of this digital material  is helpful in conveying the complexities of the sport, increasing understanding within the community and providing impetus for further growth of the sport worldwide. Continue reading

The Weightlifting Bandwagon

Leo Isaac, Olympian, Weightlifting CoachIt seems to me, as a practitioner of 40 years, that there has never been a time in the history of Olympic Weightlifting when the sport was as popular as it is now. It’s hard to estimate the participation growth but a figure of 10 times more people engaging in the sport than 40 years ago is probably very conservative.

In not only the capital cities of Australia but also in regional cities and towns, it is probable that you could find somewhere to pursue training in Olympic Weightlifting. For many Fitness centres, the inclusion of classes in which customers learn to Snatch and Clean & Jerk has become a standard element of the business model. It’s an amazing sight to see significant amounts of floor space covered wall-to-wall with people performing Power Snatches or Power Cleans, or Overhead Squats, or some kind of strange looking Jerk. Continue reading