Fundamental Change in Weightlifting

At a coaching symposium held at the Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra,  in October 2017, I gave a presentation titled “Can Australia be competitive in Weightlifting?”

The main purpose of this presentation was really to get people thinking about strategies that would make a real and significant difference to the High Performance program and improve Australia’s competitiveness on the international platform. A secondary purpose was to get participants to identify and discuss the “elephants in the room”, those barriers that we know are there but find it very difficult to talk about.

Developing new innovative strategies, and “thinking outside the box”,  is really quite a hard task. There is always a tendency within organisations to keep doing the things we do because it is what we have always done. In short, it is easier, time saving and seemingly less risky to re-deploy familiar old strategies rather than invent new ones. But there is always likely to come a time when a drastic re-think is necessary, and courage needs to be summoned up to go in a different and unfamiliar direction. Perhaps that time has come.

The question “Can Australia be competitive in Weightlifting?” deserves a moment of your thought. The question itself is problematic as it is necessary, before answering, to clarify what is meant by “competitive”. As expected, the participants of the symposium did seek this clarification, and were presented with two alternative definitions.

To be competitive in Weightlifting is to:

  • Regularly attain top 15 placings in World Championship each year? or,
  • Dominate the medal count at the Commonwealth Games?

Yes of course there are probably better definitions out there but this was simply an exercise, and all participants were invited to vote YES or NO. No fence sitting was allowed! The outcome of the vote was: YES – 62.5%, NO – 37.5%.

In asking the question, I had no preconceived notion as to which way the vote would go and prepared further ‘inconvenient‘ questions to address both the YES and the NO voters, as follows:

Can Australia be competitive?

The aim of the questions above was to search for ‘elephants in the room’, those things we don’t really want to think about. For example, we might say we want Australia to be more competitive, but we really don’t think it is possible given the extent of doping on the international level. Perhaps it is the case that, to be more competitive, a great deal more work must be done and, as we are largely volunteers, we are not really sure we can commit ourselves to the effort required. A lack of confidence to succeed would indeed be an ” elephant in the room” for coaches, athletes and administrators in the sport.

All we need is seriously hard training

After the vote and a brief discussion of the questions above, a simple proposition to fix the competitiveness issue was put to the audience – “all we need is athletes training seriously hard and more of them!

As intended, the audience swiftly reacted to this proposition by pointing out the need for coaches, suitable training environments, competitions and athlete support systems. Furthermore, as presenter, I raised the issue of whether we actually know what seriously hard training is.

Strategies to improve the High Performance Program must make a difference on the floor of the gym.

Strategies to improve the High Performance Program must make a difference on the floor of the gym.

Next. the audience were introduced to the central theme of the presentation – the notion that whatever plans and schemes are made to improve the High Performance Program, there must be an effect on the gym floor. It is my view that in a decentralised system, such as exists in Australia, the key component that drives high performance is the clubs. If within clubs there is better recruitment and retention of athletes, an upskilling of coaches and club managers, and improved training practices on the gym floor that drive towards excellence, then there is a good chance that standards of performance will rise.

What may be required to improve Australia’s competitiveness in Weightlifting is revolution not evolution, and typically revolution is a bottom up process of change. The revolution is probably already underway but as yet unrecognised – the rise of the For-Profit Weightlifting club. Hitherto, non-profit Weightlifting clubs have been the backbone of the Australian Weightlifting community for many decades and there is no denial that some were and still are very well run organisations. However, the tide may have turned, and there is now seemingly an inexorable rise in Weightlifting clubs of a for-profit nature.

This change is significant. The for-profit club has to be innovative and resourceful in order to survive and provide the entrepreneur with a reasonable return on investment. The for-profit club has to take ownership of the problems that exist within the sport industry and the sport of Weightlifting in particular. It is simply not a reasonable business strategy to rely on outside help from  the national body, government or other external authorities. For example, for-profit clubs are usually excluded from typical government funding programs. Instead, the for-profit club has to look at the marketplace and develop a business plan to make a dollar.

Revolution is a bottom up approach to implementing change.

If therefore fundamental change is likely to occur then it is more likely that it will be generated via a bottom-up approach. There is little doubt that there is an increasing number of entrepreneurs at work within the Australian Weightlifting community and it could just be that a “Kerry Packer – World Series Cricket” moment is not so far away.

I have been asking many colleagues within the Weightlifting community as to whether the future of Australian Weightlifting will depend on commercialism. For example, is it a reasonable proposition that dollars can be made by being a professional Weightlifting coach, running courses and workshops, selling equipment and products, franchising businesses, and of course providing training facilities for Weightlifting. Certainly people are trying and it is likely that some will succeed through innovation and effort. Can we move to the next step and run prestigious Grand Prix events at significant profit. I think it is possible but it will require a very cut and thrust entrepreneurial approach rather a few individuals gathered around the committee table.

In the next article, I will address some of the strategies that can be implemented by Weightlifting clubs to create the bottom up process of fundamental change.

Strategies that can be implemented by clubs to create fundamental change.

Strategies for change to be discussed in next article.


A proposal for a club development program

This article proposes the development and implementation of a club development program across the nation. The proposal looks at what the national body can do to promote club development and how a framework for club development can be implemented with little cost. The objective of this framework is to signpost important steps that clubs can take to develop increasing capability and be rewarded for the effort.

At the outset it is important to recognize that clubs are the main constituent part of the Australian Weightlifting system that delivers the services, equipment and facilities needed to participate in the sport. Clubs are of course highly dependent on the ability of coaches to introduce many others to the sport (in a variety of roles). Therefore in consideration that a club development program aims to provide assistance to clubs, the need to give coaches a helping hand is at the heart of it.

The services provided by clubs include the promotion of the sport, the recruitment of athletes, the provision of coaching, the organisation of training and competitions, and the recruitment and training of personnel for officiating. In some cases, clubs also provide funding to athletes and coaches.

Ultimately, without a centralised program, the Australian Weightlifting system is completely dependent on clubs to produce results.

A good club development program would result in clubs consistently working to:

  • Upskill their members in coaching, officiating and administration
  • Promote the sport in the community
  • Receive new members and educate them in good Weightlifting theory and practice (safety, health, technique, training methodology)
  • Conduct competitions or assist other clubs to conduct competitions
  • Develop a culture that is conducive to high performance
  • Promote the idea of service and contributing positively back to the Australian Weightlifting system

A good club development program would involve the AWF working to:

  • Provide resources and know-how to help clubs develop (e.g. promotional resources, how to run a club manual, instructional resources, etc)
  • Reward clubs for innovation (i.e. an awards program that recognises innovation)
  • Ensure clubs adopt policies that promote quality control in coaching, administration, membership administration, member protection, competition organisation
  • Provide incentives to clubs to develop an increasingly capable voluntary workforce in the service of Weightlifting.

A national framework for club development would be an instrumental measure to provide incentives for clubs to strive to achieve the above aims. This framework would enable the AWF to measure the effectiveness of the club development program and for club personnel to self-rate according to published criteria including:

  • Number of athletes registering totals
  • Number of athletes competing in national youth, junior, senior and masters championships
  • Number of qualified referees (STATE and above level)
  • Conducting events
  • Implementing athlete education programs
  • Implementing policies and administration structure

Compulsory Conditions

To be a part of the club development program and to be eligible for awards and assistance from the AWF, all clubs must fulfill certain mandatory conditions:

  • Paid AWF club affiliation fee
  • 1 coach currently licensed with the AWF actively involved throughout theyear
  • Nominate a club secretary to maintain communication between AWF and club members, and to upload athlete details and competition results
  • Have Public Liability insurance
  • Implement AWF Athlete Safety Program (exists only as an idea at present)
  • Implement Pure Performance Program
  • Be accessible by anyone with an interest in Weightlifting

Tiered Club System

Clubs differ widely in their facilities, number of athletes, coaching capability, mission, ethos, and a variety of other factors. Therefore it would be a matter of fairness for a Club Development Program to recognize contributions from clubs at different levels, and enable clubs to compete for awards with clubs of a similar nature.

Three tiers are suggested (the name of each tier can be determined later):

  • Tier 3 Club (entry level into the Club Development Framework)
  • Tier 2 Club
  • Premier Club

A Tier 3 club

The club fulfills the compulsory conditions above and achieves all of the criteria below:

  • 5 athletes who are capitated AWF members and have registered a total during the year in any AWF sanctioned competition
  • The licensed club coach has at least 5 athletes listed against their name in the AWF capitation database

A Tier 2 Club

The club fulfills the compulsory conditions above and achieves any three of the criteria below:

  • In addition to the club coach, the club has an appointed assistant coach who has an AWF license to coach
  • 15 athletes who are capitated AWF members and have registered a total during the year in any AWF sanctioned competition
  • 3 Athlete competing in any National Championships during the year
  • 3 AWF accredited referees (equivalent to State level or above) who have each acted as a referee twice in the year
  • Received the AWF’s innovation award in the previous or current year
  • Conducted one 2-hour public workshop in the year to promote Weightlifting
  • Conducted a public program for junior athletes for entry into Weightlifting

Premier Club

The club fulfills the compulsory conditions above and has achieved any five of the criteria below:

  • A designated head coach and two assistant coaches, all of whom are currently licensed and actively involved.
  • 30 athletes who are capitated AWF members and have registered a total during the year in any AWF sanctioned competition
  • 6 Athlete competing in any National Championships during the year
  • 3 AWF accredited referees (equivalent to National level or above) and who have each acted as a referee twice in the year
  • Has at least one club member who is recorded as acting as competition MC on at least 3 occasions
  • Received the AWF’s innovation award in the previous or current year
  • Conducted one 2-hour public workshop in the year to promote Weightlifting
  • Conducts a public program for junior athletes for entry into Weightlifting
  • Promoted, organised and conducted at least 3 sanctioned Weightlifting competitions per year.

AWF Clubs Innovation Award

The Australian Weightlifting system needs to be innovative to ensure a successful future on a national and international level. Innovation needs to be an important goal and a method is needed to recognise and reward innovation within the Australian Weightlifting community. The proposed Innovation Award is just one example of the effort needed to support the fundamental work carried out by clubs. Innovation may take many forms, for example by developing and testing:

  • Training programs for juniors aged 8-12
  • A community event to promote Weightlifting
  • A new competition format
  • Methods for monitoring and measuring the training of athletes
  • New instructive resources for the education of athletes, coaches, officials or administrative personnel.
  • A new business model for clubs
  • Many other possibilities for innovation

Clubs must apply for the Innovation Award in only one tier, and the application must provide a detailed description of the innovation. As part of the application process, the applying club must accept that the AWF will publish details of the innovation for the common good.

Recipients of the Innovation Award will be given press and publicity by the AWF and given a prize such as a competition barbell of IWF standard.

State Associations

It will be noticed by some that State Associations are not mentioned in this article. State Association will continue to exist in the future but this proposal recognises that even when State Associations have an employed person,  it is clubs that essentially do the work and need the support.

Contact: Leo Isaac, email:

Continuous Improvement in the Training of the Athlete

The task for the athlete and the coach is to work together to continually improve the training process of the athlete over many years. It is highly probable that when this continuous improvement process comes to a halt, the athlete will no longer improve.

From day 1 in the training process, the athlete learns how to train to develop good technique and athletic ability so as to improve results. Initially the learning is fast but as the months and years go by, the rate of learning slows as a result of fewer opportunities to learn something new, or perhaps incorrect assumptions that all the knowledge needed has been learned. To make further improvement then, the athlete and coach must work harder to find solutions to the perfection of the training problem.

Essential in any quest to improve is the asking of questions on a regularly basis. The athlete should ask questions such as “how can I improve my technique further?”, “what more can I put into my training?” and “is my training as effective as it can be?”. The coach should ask questions such as “how can I facilitate the athlete’s learning better?”, “what can I do to monitor the athlete’s training input?” and “is my coaching as effective as it can be?”. The athlete and the coach must address these questions together and seek to avoid the assumption that everything is as good as it can be. If the coach is no longer in a quest to improve their own performance then how can they expect their athlete to do so?

It is common for athletes in Weightlifting to think that the limit of their lifting ability is governed by genetic inheritance. This is an example of what psychologists call a ‘Fixed Mindset”, a belief that one’s potential is pre-determined by circumstances beyond the athlete’s control. In reality, a far more important factor than genetics is whether the athlete can develop a better training process. Ultimately, sport at the highest level is so competitive that only those that strive to continually improve their training process will emerge as winners. This willingness to see one’s performance potential as bound to consistent hard work, learning and ingenuity is referred to as a “Growth Mindset”.

The following are among the many possible ways that the training process of the athlete can be improved:

  1. The athlete can develop an understanding that the form of the Weightlifter rises and falls as a consequence of the training process i.e. stress – recovery – adaptation. Building in significant intensity fluctuation into the training program is extremely important i.e. the athlete must have really heavy days, really light days, and days in between.
  2. The athlete should develop an understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses, and learn the value of working conscientiously, creatively and consistently on improving their weaknesses. The athlete is only as good as their weaknesses will permit.
  3. The athlete should closely observe the effort of other athletes in the training environment and begin to discern the factors that lead to more successful training outcomes. In reality, the training habits that lead to success are obvious if one looks.
  4. The athlete must appreciate that the purpose of training is to improve their result in the competition arena. This requires that the athlete focuses on perfecting their technical execution in training so that in the toughest pressure of competition the athlete has full confidence in their own ability and is more likely to succeed than to fail.
  5. The athlete must learn to maximise the value of their training time. Ultimately, poor usage of time in training, hands the advantage to the athlete’s competitors.
  6. The athlete must learn to self-monitor and self-regulate their own training performance, and strive to understand the positive and negative effects of the training that they undertake. By engaging in such self-monitoring, the athlete will be better able to understand how training can be improved to achieve optimal effect. The keeping of a training diary is helpful in this regard.
  7. The athlete must organise their daily regimen so as to provide the greatest advantage to their training effort. Included in this daily regimen is nutrition, sleep, work, study, recreational activities, shopping, household chores, and family responsibilities. In addition, work on flexibility, planning of training, mental rehearsal, and reflection on training performance are important constituents in the daily regimen. Furthermore, the athlete will also need to find time for activities associated with maximising wellness such as trips to physiotherapy.
  8. For continuous improvement to occur, the athlete must love the process of learning and discovery of new knowledge. Optimal learning occurs when the athlete is fully engaged in the learning process. The mere completion of prescribed training is not sufficient to create full engagement in this learning process. The athlete must frequently reflect on their own training and ask the question ‘how can I improve my training process?’ Reflection (on one’s own experience) is believed to be majorly important in the learning process, however living in the 21st century provides constant distraction so that the time available for such reflection is greatly diminished.

The role of the coach in assisting the athlete to develop a process of continuous improvement is critical and largely this is the purpose of this article. The coach and athlete must avoid the idea that it is the written training program itself, the schedule of exercises, reps, sets and intensity that causes success. Instead the coach must facilitate the athlete’s learning of the process of training, and more especially how to continually improve their own process. Sometimes the athlete is want to experiment with their own ideas and this is not always a bad thing. The coach can assist the athlete to learn as much from their failures, as from their successes. However the coach does play a supremely important role in shaping the athlete’s continual improvement process by providing a caring and supportive environment, helping athletes to reflect on their own experiences, and fostering a belief that further improvement is possible if more learning can be achieved.

Training the Jerk

It has long been my view that the critical factor for developing a confident and reliably successful Jerk is that the athlete must attempt to mimic the conditions of a maximal Jerk all the way through their warm up to the moment when a maximal Jerk is actually achieved. This requires the athlete to have conceptual knowledge of what actually happens during a maximal jerk, and how a maximal jerk can be achieved if it is to be achieved at all.

Jerk Warm Up

Let’s consider that an athlete has a previous best of 128Kg in the Clean and Jerk and aims to succeed with a new personal best of 130Kg in competition. Let’s now try to envisage exactly what the athlete will likely experience at the most critical moment.

In that moment several important things must happen:

  1. The athlete must ‘fully commit’ to the movement.
  2. The athlete must commit to dropping the depth required to achieve a lockout of the bar overhead
  3. The athlete must exert great effort to maintain structural integrity of the body to resist the downward pressure of the bar
  4. The athlete must maintain control of balance until the referees’ down signal

If any of the above four aspects of performance are absent or substantially lacking, it is very unlikely that the jerk will be successful. On the other hand, minor indiscretions of technique, for example a slight error in foot placement, may not cause a failure.

The common issue for athletes is that as they warm-up in the jerk taking successively higher weights, there is no practise of that final moment of intense pressure. Warm-ups are characterised by inadequate practise of the depth required for a maximal jerk, a lack of attention to structural integrity (perfecting receiving positions), and complete oblivion to the need for balance. This occurs because the weight is light and they can get away with any indiscretion. Then at the moment of near-maximal or maximal attempts when every aspect of technique is required, it has not been practised and is therefore undeliverable.

This concept of practising the skill that is needed at a maximal weight applies equally to the Snatch and the Clean. It is not a good strategy to practise one set of movement characteristics when weights are relatively easy and then to try to adopt a different set of movement characteristics when the weight is heavy.

A possible reason why athletes tend to take ‘short cuts’ in technique as they warm-up is that Weightlifting is so much a psychological sport. It is a natural disposition of the athlete to want every warm-up weight to feel as easy as possible.  Making a concerted effort to extend the time duration of the lift so as to practise receiving low positions, working on structural integrity and balance incurs an energy cost, and as far as the athlete is concerned, this does not work towards making warm-ups feel as easy as possible. Therefore athletes tend to cut corners only to suffer the consequences of what they have not practised.

The causes of burnout in athletes

I have formed a view, as a result of a lengthy career in Olympic Weightlifting, that the most difficult tasks of the coach are neither the instruction of Weightlifting technique,  nor the teaching of athletes how to train effectively. Though these activities are time consuming and require considerable learning to perform, there is yet another level of coaching that far exceeds in complexity. The hardest task is keeping athletes highly motivated over many years despite all that life throws at them. This article will examine the causes of burnout in athletes and what the coach and supporters of the athlete can reasonably do to mitigate the risks. Continue reading

Rehabilitation and Recovery of Weightlifting Injuries

This article attempts to address one of the most serious errors that athletes frequently make in their training –  a failure in regard to rehabilitation and recovery of Weightlifting injuries that result from overloading.

Overloading is considered to be an essential aspect of training for performance improvement and for this reason we tend to talk about Progressive Overload Theory in coaching courses. It is not that overloading is something to be avoided but it is inevitable that the motivated athlete will at some time push too hard, too often, and will fail to adequately recover between sessions. The result is often the occurrence of worrisome pain, soreness and/or stiffness focused in a particular part of the body. An easy example in Weightlifting would be the situation where an athlete pushes hard on squats over several weeks only to succumb to patella tendon soreness in either one or both knees. Continue reading

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! Continue reading

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: Continue reading

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