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 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: Read More

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:

Read More

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. Read More

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. Read More

Talent Identification In Weightlifting

Nature versus Nurture in Weightlifting

It is accepted theory in Weightlifting that genetics plays a substantial role in the ultimate performance of the individual (12, 33).  A typical belief is that Weightlifters of the highest performance levels have a greater ratio of fast-twitch to slow-twitch fibres (29). Similarly, a common opinion in the Weightlifting community is that certain anthropometric characteristics strongly influence success such as shoulder circumference (38) and shorter height and limb lengths (34). Furthermore, many researchers have found that Weightlifters as a group are amongst the most mesomorphic of all athletes (25).

How does Weightlifting sit in the nature v nurture paradigm

Figure 1: Relative contribution of nature (natural ability) and nurture (influence of environment) on success in Weightlifting

However, environmental factors also play a highly significant role in success in Weightlifting. These factors include the coach’s leadership skills (8), the coach’s knowledge and effectiveness (7), the culture within the training environment (22) and the degree to which the athlete develops a sense of belonging or relatedness to their sport and their training colleagues (30). These factors will affect the motivation of the athlete to pursue training over the many years of deliberate practise (10) at increasingly higher levels of commitment needed to attain high performance. Furthermore, environmental factors will impact on the athlete’s ability to cope with the psychological pressures of extreme heaviness in critical moments in competition and training.

For these reasons, success in Weightlifting should not be considered as predominantly dependent on genetics as is a popular view, but instead on a relatively equal contribution of genetics and environment as portrayed in Figure 1 above.

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Articles for Coaching Weightlifting

There are currently 44 in-depth articles current available on this website for coaches and athletes in the sport of Olympic Weightlifting. More articles are written on a weekly basis. The following table provides a listing of free and subscription required articles (SUBS).  A subscription may (a) One Month or (b) Full Membership.

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Article  Category  Free  Subs
A coach’s plea  Coaching  free article
Training principles  Coaching  free article
Coaching the youth beginner athlete  Coaching  free article
Determining platform attempts in a Weightlifting competition  Coaching  free article
 Writing training programs  Coaching  free article
 Teaching Weightlifting skills: 10 objectives  Coaching  free article
 Talent identification  High Performance  free article
 5 decisions for high performance in sport  High Performance  free article
 The path to high performance (part 1)  High Performance  free article
 The path to high performance (part 2)  High Performance  free article
 The path to high performance (part 3)  High Performance  free article
The affects of Weightlifting on the cardiovascular system Physiology  free article
 Homeostasis and adaptation Physiology  free article
Neural adaptation Physiology  free article
Muscle fibre types Physiology  free article
 Muscle anabolism  Physiology  free article
 Concurrent strength and endurance training  Physiology  free article
 Muscle co-activation and strength  Physiology  free article
 Proprioception  Physiology  free article
 Daily energy and energy efficiency  Physiology  free article
 Weight loss and making weight  Physiology  free article
 The hardest step  Psychology  free article
 The inner journey  Psychology  free article
 The mindset of the Weightlifter  Psychology  free article
 Snatch technique – key concepts explained  Technique  free article
 Learning the technique of the jerk – key objectives  Technique  free article
 Understanding the pull trajectory  Technique  free article
 Qualitative analysis of the snatch  Technique  free article
 Key issues in the jerk explained  Technique  free article
 The dip phase of the jerk  Technique  free article
 The jerk balance  Technique  free article
 The split squat  Technique  free article
 Conversations with athletes  Training Methodology  free article
 The 21-day training cycle  Training Methodology  free article
 Exercises for improving the snatch  Training Methodology  free article
 A comparison of different training scenarios on rate of improvement  Training Methodology  free article
 Russian squat programs – how well do they work  Training Methodology  free article
 Gold standards in Weightlifting  Training Methodology  free article
 The rest interval between sets  Training Methodology  free article
 Training intensity for pulls  Training Methodology  free article
 Do you train hard? Training Methodology  free article
Training Intensity Percentages as Used in Weightlifting Training Methodology free article

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Writing Weightlifting Programs – 5 Principles to Improve Results

Experienced Weightlifting coaches know the value of writing training programs for athletes. Yes, there are many limitations with a written program but if you want success as a coach, it is inevitable that you will spend many hours writing weightlifting programs. The task becomes particularly important when you have multiple athletes to look after, otherwise you will be faced with a constant stream of questions and you will find yourself making decisions on the spot that sometimes may be unwise. Therefore coaches need to demonstrate to their athletes that they have capability in the task of writing weightlifting programs.

Here are 5 principles to bear in mind when writing weightlifting programs:

Principle 1: Programs need to be athlete-centered

For best effect training programs need to be athlete-centered, that is focused on the actual needs of the individual athlete. While it is possible to develop and obtain some advantage from generic programs, in reality every athlete will present a unique situation for the coach. It is likely that, in any group of athletes, there will be a great many differences between individuals in terms of:

  • Strengths and weaknesses in physique
  • Technical development
  • Time available for training
  • Flexibility (range of movement)
  • Training and competition experience
  • Level of fitness / adaptation to training
  • In jury status
  • Goals and motivation

For these reasons the use of generic programs can lead to unsatisfying and possibly damaging results. Nevertheless, coaches will frequently make use of generic programs that are either developed by themselves, downloaded from the Internet or borrowed from other coaches. This is because it is far less time expensive to develop one generic program for use by several individuals than it is to develop a program specially tailored for each individual. Athletes tend not to understand or appreciate the amount of time involved in writing programs which, for some coaches, may amount to many hours per week.

Principle 2: Programs never convey sufficient information

Even well-documented training program will have gaps in the information it presents. For this reason, athletes need to be educated in how to interpret and use a program that has been developed for them.

For example, this athlete education might include:

  • Using the program as a rough guide rather than a rigid set of rules
  • How to make changes to the program if there are injury concerns
  • What to do if you miss a session
  • What happens when you suffer fatigue or soreness
  • What the athlete should be thinking about as they undertake a particular exercise
  • How the athlete should utilise lighter sets to work on technique, speed and flexibility
  • What course of action to take if technical errors creep into training

This athlete education makes all the difference. It is quite possible to give exactly the same program to two individuals who have very similar attributes and see complete different results. One athlete may thrive on a particular program while another will think it highly ineffective.  Therefore an important skill for coaches to acquire is to be able to constantly adapt training programs to the ever-changing situation of the athlete.

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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. Read More