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.

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. Read More

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! Read More

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: Read More

The 21 Day Cycle for Training Programs

Sport training programs are usually based on a 7-day microcycle. This is true in Weightlifting and it is probably true in most sports. It’s just part of the natural order of things that the weekly rhythm of life is difficult to escape. As a result, in Weightlifting, the heaviest training days in a build-up to a competition tend to occur once a week, that is 7 days apart.

The question is whether this 7 day cycle is suitable for advanced athletes who train very frequently and endure very considerable workloads. Could it be that the 7-day cycle does not allow for sufficient recovery between heaviest sessions? On the other hand, could it be that an advanced athlete can train ‘heavy’ more frequently than every 7 days?

In truth, no-one really knows the answer to these questions and it is probable that there are many factors that ensure that the optimal microcycle differs from one individual to the next, for example the definition of ‘heavy’, the training workload across the week and the athlete’s personal circumstances are some of the factors.

But here is a different approach to the usual 7-day cycle. This method utilises a 21 day (3 week) cycle consisting of two micro-cycles: 1st micro-cycle – 10 days. 2nd micro-cycle – 11 days. The stars indicate the relative level of intensity.

21 Day Micro Cycle

The above illustration indicates that in the 3 week cycle there are two sessions at 90% and two sessions at 95% (or more). These heaviest sessions are high in intensity and low in volume. It’s really problematic to use percentages as it creates all sorts of expectations and problems with athletes but nevertheless percentages are a necessary evil. These 4 heavy sessions in the 3 week period should not just be seen as pushing for maximum singles on Snatch or Clean & Jerk. Further away from the competition, these heavy days can be used to push for high results on any variation of the Olympic Lifts e.g. snatch from knee, power snatch, power clean & jerk, front squat, back squat, etc. Furthermore, it does not have to be all about singles either. The intention is simply to aim for high intensity using lower reps.

Immediately following heavy sessions are two very light sessions (65%) for recovery and there are a further three light sessions at 70%. All of these light sessions are incredibly important. There are also 3 days off in this scheme of things (6 days per week training) and this also aids in recovery.

There are also 9 training sessions between 75-85% intensity (medium intensity). This is where the bulk of the training occurs for strength, speed and technique and it is in these sessions that the greatest volume occurs in the cycle.

In a 12-13 week build-up to a competition, the 3 week (21 day) cycle outlined above allows the athlete to complete 4 cycles each and each cycle can have a slightly different stimulus. The first 2 cycles can have more emphasis on strength and power lifts, while the last 2 cycles can have more emphasis on full movements and pushing every 10 days for very high performance.

Gold Standards in Weightlifting

The purpose of “Gold Standards” is to help individuals to identify strengths and weaknesses and to target areas of performance for improvement. There are always differences between individuals due to anthropometry (body dimensions), flexibility, technical ability and quirks of nature.

The following table will help to identify your strengths and weaknesses.

  1. Snatch
    1. Power Snatch is 88% of PR Snatch
    2. Overhead squat is 100% of PR Snatch
    3. Snatch Balance is 105% of PR Snatch
    4. Snatch from Knee is 95% of PR Snatch
  2. Clean & Jerk
    1. Front squat for 3 reps is 100% of PR Clean & Jerk
    2. PR Clean & Jerk is 80% of PR Back Squat
    3. Power Clean is 88% of PR Clean & Jerk
    4. PR Jerk from Racks = PR Clean
    5. Good Morning for 3 reps is 70% of PR Clean & Jerk

These “Gold Standards” have been developed as a result of observation of athletes over the years by the author. In general, these standards are arbitrary and need further development.

The author would be pleased to receive feedback from athletes as to how they compare with the above standards so that they can be improved.

Training Methodology

The Training Methodology section provides a number of links that are accessible only to subscribers. The following links are available to non-subscribers:

Articles currently available in the Training Methodology section to subscribers only include:

  • Training Principles
  • Writing Training Programs
  • Talent Identification and Development
  • Gestalt and Temporal Spatial Approaches to Movement Analysis
  • The rest interval between sets
  • Training Intensity for Pulls

Weightlifting Training Programs highly detailed

At present, there are 32 Weightlifting Training Programs for immediate sale on this website (see below). These training programs have been prepared by Leo Isaac. Further programs are in preparation including an illustrated booklet for beginners. Each weightlifting training program consists of:

  1. Instructions on how to interpret and use the program
  2. A schedule of exercises and guidance on how heavy to perform exercises
  3. A chart the provides guidance on the amount of work to perform on each exercise

To be able to download the following programs, you must purchase the respective Training Program Bundle. After purchase additional links become available to you on the menu to enable you to download programs.

The following Training Program bundles are available:

  • Novice Training Program Bundle (8 programs)
  • Intermediate Training Program Bundle (13 programs)
  • Advanced Training Program Bundle (10 programs)

Please contact Leo Isaac on email: leo@trainingweightlifting.com if you need assistance.

Novice Weightlifting Training Programs Bundle

Weightlifting Programs for Complete Beginner Athletes (No Star)

  • 5 Session Preliminary Beginner Program
  • 20 Session Beginner Skill Development Program

Weightlifting Programs for Novice Athletes (1 Star)

  • Program 001: 4 Week Novice Weightlifting Program, 2 Days per Week
  • Program 002: 5 Week Novice Weightlifting Program, 2 Days per Week
  • Program 003: 6 Week Novice Weightlifting Program, 2 Days per Week
  • Program 004: 7 Week Novice Weightlifting Program, 2 Days per Week
  • Program 005: 8 Week Novice Weightlifting Program, 2 Days per Week
  • Program 006: 9 Week Novice Weightlifting Program, 2 Days per Week

To access these training programs, a drop-down link will become available on the main menu under “Weightlifting Training Programs” after you have purchased the Novice Training Program Bundle. There will also be a link “Novice Programs” in the SubMenu which appears on the right of your screen (large screens) or at the foot of the page (small screens – mobile or tablet).

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Intermediate Weightlifting Training Programs Bundle

Weightlifting Programs for Intermediate Athletes (2 Star)

  • Program 010: 4 Week Intermediate Weightlifting Program, 3 Days per Week
  • Program 011: 5 Week Intermediate Weightlifting Program, 3 Days per Week
  • Program 012: 6 Week Intermediate Weightlifting Program, 3 Days per Week
  • Program 013: 7 Week Intermediate Weightlifting Program, 3 Days per Week
  • Program 014: 8 Week Intermediate Weightlifting Program, 3 Days per Week
  • Program 018: 12 Week Intermediate Weightlifting Program, 3 Days per Week

Weightlifting Programs for Intermediate Athletes (3 Star)

  • Program 023: 5 Week Intermediate Weightlifting Program, 4 Days per Week
  • Program 024: 6 Week Intermediate Weightlifting Program, 4 Days per Week
  • Program 025: 7 Week Intermediate Weightlifting Program, 4 Days per Week
  • Program 026: 8 Week Intermediate Weightlifting Program, 4 Days per Week
  • Program 027: 9 Week Intermediate Weightlifting Program, 4 Days per Week
  • Program 028: 10 Week Intermediate Weightlifting Program, 4 Days per Week
  • Program 030: 12 Week Intermediate Weightlifting Program, 4 Days per Week

To access these training programs, a drop-down link will become available on the main menu under “Weightlifting Training Programs” after you have purchased the Intermediate Training Program Bundle. There will also be a link “Intermediate Programs” in the SubMenu which appears on the right of your screen (large screens) or at the foot of the page (small screens – mobile or tablet).

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Advanced Weightlifting Training Programs Bundle

Weightlifting Programs for Advanced Athletes (4 Star)

  • Program 034: 4 Week Advanced Weightlifting Program, 5 Days per Week  with Optional Double Day Training (PDF)
  • Program 035: 5 Week Advanced Weightlifting Program, 5 Days per Week
  • with Optional Double Day Training (PDF)
  • Program 037: 7 Week Advanced Weightlifting Program, 5 Days per Week with Optional Double Day Training (PDF)
  • Program 038: 8 Week Advanced Weightlifting Program, 5 Days per Week with Optional Double Day Training (PDF)
  • Program 039: 9 Week Advanced Weightlifting Program, 5 Days per Week with Optional Double Day Training (PDF)
  • Program 040: 10 Week Advanced Weightlifting Program, 5 Days per Week
  • Program 041: 11 Week Advanced Weightlifting Program, 5 Days per Week with Optional Double Day Training (PDF)
  • Program 042: 12 Week Advanced Weightlifting Program, 5 Days per Week
  • Program 044: 14 Week Advanced Weightlifting Program, 5 Days per Week (Excel)
  • Program 045: 15 Week Advanced Weightlifting Program, 5 Days per Week with Optional Double Day Training (PDF)
  • Program 062: Last 4 Weeks Training for High Performance Athletes Preparing for Major Competition
  • Program 090: 10 Week Advanced Training Program, 5 Days per Week with prescribed work on Flexibility. Agility, Balance and Stability (FABS).

To access these training programs, a drop-down link will become available on the main menu under “Weightlifting Training Programs” after you have purchased the Advanced Training Program Bundle. There will also be a link “Advanced Programs” in the SubMenu which appears on the right of your screen (large screens) or at the foot of the page (small screens – mobile or tablet).

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The rest interval between sets

The time interval between sets in Weightlifting training and what happens during that interval is a source of great interest to me personally and perhaps to others as well. Initially, my thoughts centred around the quest for productivity in training and the need to get as much training done in the time available. For many years I have operated on the premise that an average of 2 minutes between sets in training is optimal, and I am still of that opinion. It’s not rocket science to work out that, in any fixed period of training, an average of 2 minutes between sets accomplishes 50% more training than an average of 3 minutes.

However, in more recent years, my thoughts about the time interval between sets have expanded beyond the mere need for productivity. What has also become an interest to me is the mental process of the athlete in that time period. Furthermore, through observation and study, I have begun to formulate ideas about environmental factors that beneficially or detrimentally affect that mental process as the athlete prepares for their next effort.

It is probable that we have all experienced or witnessed the situation where an athlete in training, having completed the previous set with comparative ease, fails unexpectedly with the next set. This might happen even if there is no increase in the weight on the bar. The situation is similar in the competition environment. An athlete might succeed well with their first attempt, and be momentarily confident of the next lift, and then to seemingly suffer a loss of confidence as the wait prolongs.

While it seems clear that the time duration of the rest interval is a major factor that impacts on the performance of the Weightlifter, an explanation is needed why this is so. Furthermore, it is important to consider whether factors other than the passage of time are at work.

This article proposes that:

  • the underlying cause of performance reduction due to the passage of time is the weakening of the neural imprint or memory of the previous performance
  • during the rest period, a range of environment factors may disrupt or degrade the neural imprint of the previous performance.
  • the possible environmental disruptors include sights and sounds in the gym, conversations with other athletes, the mobile phone, and interestingly the intervention of the coach.

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