Weightlifting Training in Isolation

This post is in response to questions raised about training at home, in isolation, during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Question (01/04/20): “If this goes for ages and ages, would it be okay to have a mock meet to lift training percentage? Would there be a value in continuing to periodise training?”

The desire to continue working on a periodised training program towards a “mock meet” is evidence of the very great importance of having goals. Normally a training program that prepares the athlete for competition would follow a recognised pattern which adheres to the “Matveyev Principle”. The basic premise of this principle is that at the beginning of the training program, volume is high but intensity is low. As the preparation continues, intensity increases and volume decreases. Furthermore, at the beginning of the program, training is less in technique (and more in strength development) but as the program progresses there is more emphasis on the competition lifts.

An adaptation of Matveyev’s Principle (12 weeks of preparation)

Ideally, training programs in Olympic Weightlifting are oriented towards a competition and athletes are gradually brought to a peak of readiness at the end of the preparation period. The issue right now is that none of us can predict when the next competition will take place. It could be six months away or more. So what do we do in the mean time to keep every positively engaged in their training?

It is actually a good idea, if athletes are willing, to plan a date for a “mock competition” or perhaps even an online competition where the athlete records a video of their “competition attempts”. Such an online competition may not count for rankings or records but would be certainly useful in filling the void if we are all forced to observe physical distancing regulations for months on end. So one solution is to work towards a “mock competition” around the end of June 2020 using a pretty standard 12 week program.

But in the present situation, there is always room for a novel approach. If there is a possibility of 6 months passing without a competition, the next 8-10 weeks could be spent working carefully but solidly on strength development. Of course this might only suit athletes who have reached a reasonable level of technique proficiency. Beginners should continue to practise predominantly on technique development if they can, for example with some online coaching.

Training for intermediate and advanced Weightlifters is predominately 40% technique and 60% strength. In this next 8-10 weeks, this could be skewed 30% technique and 70% strength. This change may not seem much but in reality, it probably is!

Athletes are always nervous about losing form, losing strength, losing training time, and losing opportunities. Often good athletes are not happy with their training unless they are continually thrashing themselves. So to all athletes I say:

  1. Chill out! Worrying isn’t going to help at all.
  2. Choose whether you want to set a date for a “mock competition” and follow a conventional training program or enter into a period of careful but solid strength development.
  3. You could be a long way from your next real competition and so, for goodness sake, don’t worry about losing form. Put yourself back at square one in the Matveyev scenario and work forwards from there.
  4. Use the extra time you have if you are forced to stay at home to train frequently but really work on your wellness. Pay close attention to improving any niggling injuries (get advice!). Be really sensible and don’t break yourself. Use the extra time to work on wellness i.e. flexibility, fitness, diet, and sleep, as well as your training goals.
  5. If you are going to try a strength development phase – be really careful. A sudden change in training load is a recipe for injury. Instead start your strength training from a low base and work in undulating peaks and troughs fashion with very modest increases for the 8-10 week period. Stay well away from the Russian Squat program or similar. Programs of this nature will improve your strength temporarily but then you will deteriorate and not see any improvement for many a month thereafter, it will set you back!

Question (31/03/20): “I was wondering why you recommended a significant drop in training intensity at this time”.

We have just started what might be a very long period until social distancing measures are relaxed and normal training and competitions can resume. At this time, athletes who are able to continue training at home are confronted with significant change in their daily lives, increased anxiety, and a lack of knowing when normality will return. In regard to home training, they may have lost many days training while they acquire equipment and create a training space, and now they face a lack of face-to-face coach and the gym atmosphere. At any time when their is a combination of risk factors such as significant change in training circumstances, reduced fitness, anxiety and lack of coaching, it is prudent for training to be scaled back. Furthermore, there is strong evidence that stress caused by anxiety or indeed by high intensity training dampens the immune system and increases susceptibility to infection. In the midst of a virus pandemic, it would be sensible to reduce not increase one’s risk of illness.

It is probable that many athletes were on good or rising form just prior to the implementation of social distancing measures. There will naturally be concerns about a scaling back of training intensity that results perhaps in a needless loss of form. Instead athletes will want to continue to improve their training result. However, athletes should be aware that holding onto a high level of fitness in readiness for competition is training strategy that is very punishing on the body and cannot be maintained indefinitely. Attempting to do this under the present conditions may be problematic from both a physiological and psychological standpoint. Instead, a better strategy might be to start “isolation” training relatively low and, when accustomed to the new conditions, work upwards through the period in which restrictions last. Improving week to week will be psychologically beneficial especially at this time.

My Philosophy

Leo Isaac, Weightlifting, Snatch 130Kg at 1986 Commonwealth Games Trials, Sydney.
Leo Isaac, Snatch 130Kg in 67.5Kg category in 1986, Commonwealth Games Trials

“Exploring the outer edges of our capability is to live; not to is to let life pass by. To know one’s limits is to know oneself. What is small in one person’s mind may be big in another’s and who is to judge what is a big achievement if we have regard to the differing capabilities of individuals.

And when we have reached for the stars and obtained only the moon, we may not be happy but we can at least say that, for the moment, we have pushed forwards the frontier of human capacity and we know a little more about ourselves.”

Leo Isaac, 5 December, 1988
Leo Isaac, Weightlifting, Clean and Jerk 165Kg at 1986 Commonwealth Games Trials, Sydney.
Leo Isaac, Clean & Jerk 165Kg in the 67.5Kg category in 1986, Commonwealth Games Trials

Levels of Athlete Commitment in Olympic Weightlifting

Probably every athlete starts out with very little idea of what it takes to be successful in a sport and to a large extent it is the responsibility of coaches to drip feed this knowledge when opportunities present.

Where are you in this athlete commitment structure?

The Level 1 Olympic Weightlifting Athlete

  • Finds interest in the sport of Olympic Weightlifting and generally responds well to being coached
  • Attendance at training is not regular and suffers too frequently from life events and other motivations
  • Purpose of training is not Olympic Weightlifting specific, i.e. engages in Olympic Weightlifting to make progress in another sport
  • Does not have a plan for participating in Olympic Weightlifting competitions through the year
  • Has difficulty completing their Olympic Weightlifting training program due to lack of productivity or lack of attendance
  • Not yet keeping a Olympic Training log or possessing any records of personal bests
  • Is not aware of the need to support other Olympic Weightlifting Club Athletes or help out at Olympic Weightlifting competitions
Continue reading

Competencies in Coaching Olympic Weightlifting

Coaching is a very complex role and it takes months of practise to develop a basic level of competency and then many more years to acquire expertise. It is really unfair to expect anyone starting out as a coach to have an in-depth understanding of how to teach Olympic Weightlifting skill, design training programs or deal effectively with the range of issues that athletes present. The knowledge and skill to be able to operate effectively as a coach requires the individual to be immersed in an appropriate environment for considerable time and hopefully guided by an experienced hand. People learn to coach when presented with real life situations and it is unavoidable that mistakes are often a natural aspect of learning.

Continue reading

Self-Care for Better Training in Weightlifting

It is the eternal problem in training for high-performance Weightlifting that, despite the athlete’s motivation to push forward for improved performance, they are held back by frustrating injuries. It may seem to the athlete that they have reached a limit in their ability to train, a “red line” so to speak, and doubts about making further progress become stronger and stronger.

This article will discuss the factors that an athlete needs to consider when they are making strident efforts to reach higher goals by training harder. The effect of additional stress on the individual can have negative consequences unless coping strategies are consistently employed.

Continue reading

I need to know your mind

As your coach, it is always my wish that I can help you to take steps forward to improve your athletic performance in the competition arena. I feel reasonably certain that performance improvement is what you seek and that you expect me to support and guide you to achieve this objective.

My coaching experience, and indeed my experience as an athlete has brought an understanding that, beyond the initial happy days of being a beginner, performance improvement becomes increasingly difficult the higher the goals you seek. Inevitably, performance improvement comes at a cost, and whether you are willing to pay the price will depend on your level of motivation, your resilience and your self-belief. I will work, to the best of my ability, to develop your confidence that if you expend the energy and effort needed, be more exacting in your training process, you will continue to set new personal standards of performance in the competition arena.

Continue reading

Auto-regulation in Weightlifting Training

Auto-regulation or self-regulation is an important but not widely understood concept in coaching. For those who might read this post, auto-regulation might be defined as the ability of the athlete to regulate their own training rather than be dependent on the coach to give directions. Of course, for each and every athlete, auto-regulation lies on a continuum between total control by the coach and total control by the athlete of their own training agenda. In the initial stages of learning Weightlifting, the athlete is highly dependent on the coach. However, within 3 years perhaps, the athlete should be able to pursue their training with considerably less direction from the coach. Then if an athlete has 10 years training experience, and has reached a high level of performance, they may largely expected to self-regulate including taking responsibility for the development of their own training program.

Continue reading

The Meaning of “Push”

In the context of Olympic Weightlifting, a well-designed training program will provide the athlete with guidance on how to structure training across the week and make suitable changes to this structure on a weekly basis in the lead up to a competition. A really neatly prepared and well thought out training program can have a positive effect on the athlete. It reduces the likelihood of common issues that occur when athletes follow very loose training guidelines or none at all. Here are a few of the issues that a well-designed training program should minimise:

  1. Spending far too much time on exercises preferred by the athlete, and little or no time on exercises not preferred but often most needed.
  2. Going too heavy too often, which results in loss of form and well-being, and the occurrence of injuries.
  3. Failing to vary the training load sufficiently from day to day
  4. Performing exercises in an unhelpful order
  5. Using time poorly during training sessions

But training programs also have significant limitations and without sufficient understanding of these limitations athletes can be disadvantaged.

Pushing beyond planned percentages is an absolute necessity in the training processes but it must be done with a great deal of care and control. The training program, no matter how thoughtfully designed, can never predict the state of well-being of the athlete on any given day. For this reason, the work prescribed by the training program has to be subdued, respectful of the athlete’s physical and emotional health and not too ambitious in its goals. The written training program with its specification of exercises, sets, reps and intensities can never be regarded as anything more than a broad framework for guiding the athlete. Continue reading

I want you to be a great athlete

By Leo Isaac

People often imagine that the life of any great athlete must be a joy to live but the truth is probably, that it is not. Sure, there are moments of ecstasy when all the athlete’s efforts come to fruition but this belies the agony and heartache of the long journey that precedes.

Rising to increasingly high levels of performance involves day-to-day supreme effort not just in training but in life generally. It is a case of constantly striving to be better and this requires a high level of organisation of one’s time and energy to perform every last possible act that will benefit your sporting performance. Few athletes will take their sport to this level, maybe because of a lack of understanding or simply because they reach a personal equilibrium where they feel appropriately rewarded for their time and energy input. However, there are always a small number of athletes who are driven by personal factors to strive for higher achievement, and to dream the dream of being a great athlete. For such people, sport is an obsession in which their thoughts are focused every hour of the day. Probably, no-one starts out this way but simply evolves slowly over time until they are recognised by their own communities as an unstoppable force. Continue reading

Dealing with anxiety in Weightlifting

For the athlete in Weightlifting, the final 2 weeks before a major competition is a difficult period in which athletes often have a tendency to conjure up all manner of self-imposed roadblocks, issues and limitations. The anxiety produced by the impending competition sets off questioning thoughts about the need for more technical and strength work, and to continue training hard to the last moment. It’s a kind of investment protection issue. The athlete may conclude that they just need to invest more energy and effort in training so as to protect what they have already invested so far.

Surprisingly, the timing of the last maximal session before competition day seems to vary considerably as a result of different belief systems of coaches and athletes. The variance will likely be between 7-21 days before a major competition. Why such a difference in beliefs should exist is a question worth asking but is not the subject matter of this article. Instead, this article attempts to address the anxiety issue that many athletes suffer.
Continue reading