Beginner Olympic Weightlifting Training Programs

The information on this page assumes that you are looking for beginner Olympic Weightlifting training programs or that you are looking for advice on how to construct a beginner program. You have come to the right place!

The Beginner in Olympic Weightlifting

The period in which an athlete might be described as a ‘beginner’ lasts from the moment of their first attempt to learn Olympic Weightlifting skill to the moment that they can ‘effectively’ demonstrate the full movements of the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk with a lightly weighted bar.

Moving from Beginner to Novice

When the athlete is able to effectively demonstrate ‘full  movements’ in the Olympic lifts, they may be regarded as Novice Athletes i.e. new to the sport. This period may last from 3 months to 2 years during which a great deal is learnt about training, critical elements of skill are embedded, and the athlete has competed several times in competition.

A novice athlete typically trains 2-3 times per week and in the first year, training more than 3 times per week is NOT advised. This is because it is important for the training process to be cautious and unhurried to allow the athlete time to adapt physically and mentally to what is a very challenging form of exercise.

During the period that an Olympic Weightlifter may be regarded as a novice, training programs need to be very explanatory. The athlete will need to rely on less moment-to-moment instruction by the coach and for this reason it is a good idea for training programs to continue providing plenty of descriptive information.

The value of programs for beginners

In Olympic Weightlifting, as is probable in all sports, the early stages of skill formation are critically important. It is the expertise of the coach and the attentiveness of the learner that makes all the difference in the long-term as to the level of skill and confidence is acquired. A training program is no substitute for a good coach.

Nevertheless, training programs play an important role in the development of the athlete in Olympic Weightlifting. This is particularly the case when a coach cannot give full moment-to-moment attention to the athlete as in circumstances that they have a number of athletes to look after and/or cannot see the athlete training each day.

Even when a beginner athlete is well coached on every occasion, a written Olympic Weightlifting training program that balances the needed exercises and workload is very helpful to the coach and the athlete. In particular, human memory cannot be relied upon to inform the athlete and the coach what exercises have been done recently. If a coach tries to work without a written schedule the inevitable question from the athlete is ‘what exercise do I do today?’ to which the coach will reply ‘what exercises did you do last session?”.

Furthermore, if a beginner program is well constructed it is more than simply a list of exercises with stipulated sets and reps. For the beginner programs need to be much more descriptive and instructed, and it greatly helps if the program provides advice not only on what exercises to do but also how they should be done, i.e. what aspects of skill to focus on, how to proceed from set to set, and how to gauge how heavy to go. This information may not be needed when the coach is around but very definitely needed when they are not.

Olympic Weightlifting Programs

Reliable, well-written and professionally produced Olympic Weightlifting programs are now available on this website (see links at bottom of page). Training programs will suit athletes with experience levels from novice to advanced, and who train 3, 4 or 5 days per week. Programs are designed to prepare athletes for competition in Olympic Weightlifting in a designated number of weeks. Simply count the weeks to your next competition and then select the program that matches. All programs finalise in a taper period to optimise the physical conditioning of the athlete.

The author (Leo Isaac) is well acquainted with training theory in Olympic Weightlifting having been a devotee of the sport for 42 years, a participant in the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games in Olympic Weightlifting as a athlete for United Kingdom, an athlete Commonwealth Games 1982 in Olympic Weightlifting, National Coaching Director for Australian Weightlifting Federation, Head Coach of Australian Team at Commonwealth Games 2018, and a principal coach educator for the Australian Weightlifting Federation for 3 decades.

Leo Isaac providing a talk to fellow coaches at a Level 3 coaching course.

A special feature of programming method used by Leo Isaac is “Volume Guide” which assists the program user to gauge the amount of work done on each exercise. The guide provides advice on the number warm-up sets, sets at the designated intensity level and in some cases, the number of sets above the designated intensity level.

Leo’s ethos is that the athlete’s quality of movement is the key to success in training, and there are any factors that contribute to quality. A good program is not simply about strength and it is entirely necessary to create training programs that develop movement fluency, stability, speed, balance and confidence.

Programs not only provide detailed information on the training of the Olympic lifts and all associated assistance exercises but also include charts for flexibility exercises and core strength exercises.

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.

Follow the links below for further information

satisfaction guarantee

Advanced Olympic Weightlifting Programs

4092Level 4, 5 Days per Week, 9 Weeks, Tapering$10 
4112Level 4, 5 Days per Week, 11 Weeks, Tapering$10 
4122Level 4, 5 Days per Week, 12 Weeks, Tapering$10 
4132Level 4, 5 Days per Week, 13 Weeks, Tapering$10 
5101Level 5, Multiple Sessions, 10 Weeks, Tapering$15 
5151Level 5, Multiple Sessions, 15 Weeks$15 

The Advanced Olympic Weightlifting Athlete

The Advanced Athlete is one who has reached a high level of commitment and engages in regular consistent training 5 – 8 workouts per week. This level of training requires considerable time and effort spent on recovery and wellness by maintaining good sleep patterns, exemplary standards of nutrition and consistent work on flexibility and injury management/ prevention.

Characteristics of Training Programs for Advanced Olympic Weightlifting Athletes

An advanced Olympic weightlifting program is one that prescribes the level of work required for athletes aspiring to be highly competitive at the national championships level. The frequency and volume of work prescribed is physiologically and psychologically demanding and should not be undertaken by athletes without guidance and due consideration for health and well-being.

Advanced Olympic weightlifting programs assume that the athlete has developed a reasonable level of competency in Weightlifting technique but may require a degree of “fine tuning” in order to be ready for major competition. In general, the exercise schedule in an Advanced Olympic Weightlifting program contains fewer assistance exercises that focus on body position correctness but more time is spent pursuing power and strength development . In particular, there is a significant level of work on pulls and squats of various types.

Advanced Olympic Weightlifting Programs are designed to prepare the athlete for competition and include the following features:

  • A recommended intensity (heaviness) for each exercise of each session. Workouts follow a cyclical pattern of intensity allowing the athlete to recover between the highest intensity workouts.
  • A guide to the volume of work to be performed on each exercise. The guide prescribes 8 levels of volume. There are 3 volume levels that allow the athlete to go beyond the stated workout parameters if the athlete is feeling good, and 5 volume levels which restrict the athlete only to the stated intensity and number of sets.
  • Instructions on how to interpret the program, in particular how to work out percentages.
  • Recommendations on how to incorporate additional exercises based on individual weaknesses.
  • Suggestions on how to incorporate extra training sessions (e.g. 3 mornings per week) into the training program.

Intermediate Weightlifting Programs

Intermediate weightlifting programs are suited to athletes training 3-4 days per week, who have progressed beyond the beginner stage of technique development and have developed an understanding of the weightlifting training process. Probable key objectives of the intermediate athlete will be to improve their technical skill level, develop mental skills for better platform competitiveness, and acquire the appropriate level of strength commensurate with the performance level needed to participate in regional and national competitions.

Listing of benefits when you purchase intermediate weightlifting programs and satisfaction guarantee
2062Level 2, 3 Days per Week, 6 Weeks, Tapering$10 
2082Level 2, 3 Days per Week, 8 Weeks, Tapering$10 
2091Level 2, 3 Days per Week, 9 Weeks, Tapering$10 
2121Level 2, 3 Days per Week, 12 Weeks, Tapering$10 
3062Level 3, 4 Days per Week, 6 Weeks, Tapering$10 
3091Level 3, 4 Days per Week, 9 Weeks, Tapering$10 
3111Level 3, 4 Days per Week, 11 Weeks, Tapering$10 
3121Level 3, 4 Days per Week, 12 Weeks, Tapering$10 
3131Level 3, 4 Days per Week, 13 Weeks, Tapering$10 

Characteristics of Intermediate Olympic Weightlifting Programs

The Intermediate Olympic Weightlifting Training Programs available on this site balance the needs of the athlete for technique and strength development. Technique development is achieved through work on a variety of exercises that develop stable and strong receiving positions, and speed and confidence in movement under the bar. The range of exercises allow the athlete to focus on all aspects of the lifts by breaking full movements into components parts. The intermediate program also focuses on the development of strength by working within safe and effective ranges of intensity in various forms of pulls, squats and exercises that develop overhead strength and stability.

Guidance to the athlete is provided in three forms:

  1. A recommended intensity (heaviness of the bar) for each exercise of each session is provided by the program. Workouts follow a cyclical pattern of intensity allowing the athlete to recover between the highest intensity sessions.
  2. A guide to volume (number of sets and reps) which prescribes 8 levels of volume. There are 3 volume levels that allow the athlete to go beyond the stated workout parameters if the athlete is feeling good and 5 volume levels which restrict the athlete only to stated intensity and number of sets.
  3. Instructions on how to interpret the program, in particular how to work out percentages.

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:

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Developing leg strength for Weightlifting

Following a predetermined “squat program” for a number of weeks has always been a popular methodology for developing leg strength and over the decades there have been numerous examples promoted as “Russian Squat Programs” as a means to gain leg strength fast. But such leg strength programs work and they safe? What is the risk of injury? This article aims to provide the advantages and disadvantages of Russian Squat programs and in particular to warn enthusiasts of possible issues that are likely to occur. 10 Principles for developing leg strength is offered at the end of this article.

Russian Squat Program

Here is the infamous “Russian Squat Program” devised in the 1970’s.


In the above program, the approach taken is to use 6 sets of 2 reps at 80% of maximum squat as the base training intensity. There are 9 sessions (half of all sessions) where this intensity applies. Following each of these base intensity sessions, the program user is challenged to push very hard to higher levels of stress. The aim of the program is to increase leg strength by 5% after 18 sessions (6 weeks).

In short, the program is incredibly hard – don’t try it! To survive this program, just about every factor would have to working in favour of the athlete. In reality, striking out to achieve a 5% improvement in just 6 weeks is very inadvisable, crazy even.

Smolov Squat Routine

The Smolov Squat Program is presently in vogue within the Crossfit community. If you Google the phrase “Smolov Squat Routine” you will find any number of websites promising substantial increases in leg strength and warning you that the program is very hard and only for experienced athletes.

The total duration of the Smolov routine is more reasonable at 13 weeks, although there are shorter variations. It is highly structured and includes 5 phases:

  • Introductory Microcycle (2 weeks)
  • Base Mesocycle (4 weeks)
  • Switching (2 weeks)
  • Intense Mesocycle (4 weeks)
  • Taper (1 week)

One of the good aspects of this program is that it recognises the need to include a 2 week period of recovery (the Switching cycle). Even better, that this middle phase focusses on speed and explosive movement. All too often, athletes do not make much effort to accelerate out of squats and are just happy to get past the sticking point and complete the rep.

It is interesting though that many advocates of the Smolov program advise that you start off by subtracting 5-10 kilos below your personal best, so that you can survive the program. If this sounds like the program could be excessively hard to you, it certainly does to me! This seems to fit the Crossfit ethos, where “destroying yourself” is a phrase I regularly hear. But for most athletes, destroying yourself is not an option. Instead training is about careful consistent effort over long periods of time to gradually adapt to increasing levels of stress, and always to be mindful of the need for recovery to avoid injury.

Nevertheless there is something to be said for a highly structured program such as the Smolov routine  The first-time user will likely be very motivated and will expect the program to work, that is they will successfully complete the program. This psychological aspect of the program is very important.

However, the disadvantages significantly outweigh the advantages. The main disadvantage in following squat programs, in general, is that there is no inbuilt flexibility to cater for individual difference. For example, there will differences among athletes in regard to flexibility, control of body position, fitness and experience.

Smolov: Introductory Microcycle (2 weeks)

In all likelihood, the Introductory Microcycle will be relatively easy to accomplish. If you are coming in from a lay off, you might be a bit sore (delayed onset muscle soreness), after 1st two days and if so, it would be inadvisable to push to 90%/1 on Day 3.

Week 1

Day 1:65%/8*370%/5*175%/2*280%/1*1
Day 2:65%/8*370%/5*175%/2*280%/1*1
Day 3:70%/5*475%/3*180%/2*290%/1*1
Day 4-6:  “Scissor” Barbell Squats or Lunges

Week 2

This week is marginally challenging and consists of working up in sets of 5 reps to one set at the stated intensity. Possibly Day 3, performing 85% for 5 reps, may be a little difficult after your efforts on Day 1 and Day 2, but you will probably get through this week.




Percentage of 1RM

Day 11580%
Day 21582.5%
Day 31585%

Smolov: Base Mesocycle (4 weeks)

In the 4 week Base Mesocycle, the Smolov routine requires squatting four days a week, except in the final week in which there are only two ultra heavy sessions.






4RestRestwork up to a max singlework up to a near max single

In each of the first 3 weeks of the Base Mesocyle, there is significant variation in intensity and reps per set on daily basis. Variation of intensity is generally considered to be a useful factor that provides a good stimulus for strength development on heaviest days and an opportunity for recovery on lighter days. The Base Mesocycle is also about high rep sets in the majority of sessions. In principle, high rep sets (Mon -9 reps, Wed – 7 reps, Fri -5 reps) is a recognised way to promote muscle hypertrophy, and as a long-term aim, hypertrophy is a necessary part of developing leg strength.

What is worrying about the Base Mesocycle is the expectation that all intensities can be raised in week 2 and then again in week 3. It is fair enough to aim for a high intensity on the heaviest day of the week but not every day. An important principle to bear in mind is that as one pushes on to higher intensity, greater fatigue will result. Therefore, it becomes increasingly important not to raise the intensity of the lightest days of the week so as to allow for recovery.

Smolov: Switching Phase (2 weeks)

This phase, in which intensity is reduced to 60%, is worthy of merit. The phase serves as a 2 week recovery cycle and the routine encourages the athlete to focus on dynamic, fast, explosive movement out of the bottom of the squat. Furthermore, the program also recommends doing other dynamic leg exercises such as box jumps and other plyometric exercises. Most of the commentary on the internet about the Smolov program does not quantify any volume of work for each session. Therefore, readers might consider that 30 lifts (6 sets of 5 reps) is a sufficient critical mass. This number of sets also includes all warm-up sets i.e. 6 sets in total.

This phase raises two important questions:

  1. What about performing squats with a dynamic/fast movement out of the squat in other weeks of the program when performing warm-up sets up to 60%? Particularly for athletes engaging in Olympic Weightlifting training, it would be useful to work on speed of the concentric (movement up) phase in most sessions. One of my constant worries about the majority of Weightlifters is that they really don’t think about speed of movement often enough.
  2. Would it be beneficial to include box jumps and/or other explosive plyometric exercises into the training regimen during other weeks of the program? In fact, is it beneficial to include plyometric exercises in training most of the year round? For athletes engaging in Olympic Weightlifting, this is certainly worthy of consideration.

Smolov: Intense Mesocycle

The Intense Mesocycle is a 3-days per week hard slog schedule with 10 out of 12 sessions requiring an intensity of 90% or greater. If you bear in mind that 85% for 5 reps is a very hard set, then the ridiculousness of this phase and this routine may become apparent. Possibly this routine was devised in the expectation that users would also be doping with anabolic steroids or other anabolic agents and this is, of course, totally out of the question. The consequences to the individual of being caught are devastating and life long.

So take a look a close look at this “Intense Mesocyle” and realise that 90%/5*5 or 95%/3×4 is really fantasy land and just like the Russian Squat program above – don’t try it! Instead read the advice below on what it takes to develop stronger legs.



1Day 165%/375%/485%/4×385%/5 
 Day 260%/370%/380%/490%/385%/5×2
 Day 365%/470%/480%/4×5  
2Day 160%/470%/480%/490%/4×2 
 Day 265%/375%/385%/390%/3×395%/3
 Day 365%/375%/385%/490%/5×4 
3Day 160%/370%/380%/390%/5×5 
 Day 260%/370%/380%/395%/3×2 
 Day 365%/375%/385%/395%/3×4 
4Day 170%/380%/490%/5×5  
 Day 270%/380%/395%/3×4  
 Day 375%/390%/480%/4×3  

Smolov: Taper Cycle

The taper cycle is really a period or rest before the day on which you attempt to reap all the rewards of the Smolov routine and max out on your squat. At least the Smolov routine does recognise the need for periods of recovery (Switching Cycle and Taper Cycle)!

Leg Strength Development in the Real World

Hopefully you now have some understanding that predetermined squat programs are just figures on a piece of paper and more dangerous than you can imagine.

What athletes need instead of a “secret formula for success” is a set of principles by which they can make sensible decisions about their training whenever needed. So here goes!

  1. Accept that excellence is only achieved after many years of training with high levels of motivation and constant learning. There are no shortcuts, no secret formulas.
  2. Improvement requires consistent training to be achieved. Consistency will be lost if you suffer injury. Learn why injuries occur and learn to listen to what your body is telling you. Don’t try to ignore the tell-tale signs of injury.
  3. Injuries will occur far more frequently if your technique and form is poor. Work constantly to improve flexibility, control and body position at all stages of the movement. When athletes crash at the bottom of their squats or persist with a heavy bounce style, the likelihood of patella tendonitis increases significantly.
  4. If you think you may just have injured yourself -STOP! Don’t do a few more sets to confirm your suspicions. If you stop straightaway and the next day it proves to be a false alarm, you have lost only one session. If your suspicions were correct, by stopping straight away you may save days/weeks of lost training time with improved injury recovery.
  5. Recovery is a key aspect of training. Think of strength training as including two processes – a breakdown and a build-up. Heavy training causes a breakdown of protein in muscle tissue, and rebuilding occurs during sleep and periods of rest. Frequent heavy training with inadequate rest and recovery may cause your form to go backwards.
  6. Learn about good nutrition as this will assist your recovery from training.
  7. Your training program should include a variety of intensities. You need high intensity work as a stimulus to provoke adaptation but you also need light intensity (70% or lighter) work to help the recovery process. Training programs that pile on pressure such as the Smolov Squat Routine with successive 90% intensity sessions, will take a major toll on recovery.
  8. Keep a log and monitor you training. The more you can learn about yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, the further you will go. From the observations of yourself, as recorded in your training log, try to piece together knowledge about your own training processes.
  9. Try to find ways to push the boundaries of what you can achieve in training but don’t think just about the weight on the bar. Can you be more productive in your training sessions? Can you learn to focus on your training instead of the environment around you? Can you slowly increment the volume of work done in a session? Can you improve your technique?
  10. If you can, find an experienced coach who can provide you with feedback. As much as it is important to develop self-knowledge, it is also good to obtain objective feedback. Athletes need to be imbued with optimism about what they can achieve, but an experienced coach will help you set realistic goals.