Self-Care for Better Training in Weightlifting

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

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

In the first 2 years of experience in Weightlifting, training load rises sharply as sessions increase in frequency and duration, and the content of training increases in volume and intensity. However, if the athlete follows sensible guidelines, the overall impact of the training load is relatively easy to manage. The athlete will likely suffer minor injuries and soreness from time to time but because training is typically 3 days per week, issues dissipate without too much concern.

In years 3-5 of training, the motivated athlete will move to 4 or 5 days per week training and increase the amount of work in each session in an effort to improve. But with each passing year, the athlete will begin to perceive that they must train harder and harder to achieve smaller and smaller gains. It will become apparent to the athlete that there are limitations to how hard they can train despite their desire to be better. The athlete will now be lifting impressively heavy weights and training begins to take a more significant toll on the body.

At some point, perhaps around 4-5 years of training, the motivated athlete may begin to perceive that there are limits to the amount of training they can endure. Their performance goals seem to demand even higher levels of training and attempts to push training further result in levels of physical and psychological stress with which the individual can barely cope. It may seem to the athlete that they have reached a “red line”, beyond which they cannot go.

The athlete, and indeed the coach may compare individuals in terms of where the “red line” sits. Some athletes seem to be able to endure more training with fewer problems and as a result rise to higher levels of performance. These differences are worth exploring but a lack of research on training loads of sub-elite Weightlifters leaves only the possibility of conjecture.

Coaches are often in a position where they believe a gap exists between the present level of training and the level needed to reach the athlete’s goals. Bridging this gap becomes a persistent need and all manner of strategies are put to the test. It is tempting to push the “red line” higher by increasing the frequency and volume of training. Such a strategy might be labelled “more of the same”. There is little accessible research data that helps the athlete or coach to assess this gap. “Shooting in the dark’ is a phrase that is quite applicable in this situation.

It is common to think of “the gap” as additional training effort needed on a consistent basis. However, the gap could well be greater diligence on self-care and the organisation of one’s daily routine. The above illustration provides some clues to where greater diligence could be the key to closing “the gap”. These aspects of self-care and commitment to training are very likely to explain the differences between individuals as to where their “red line” sits. For example, athletes who reach the highest levels of performance are very attentive to their nutrition, work on flexibility more than once a day, and strive to be regular with sleep to maximise recovery from training. They also very rarely miss a training session.

Beginning athletes and athletes with lower aspiration levels will likely see “training” as something that happens in the gym at a certain hour of the day. But for the more serious athlete, training is a 24/7 proposition. Athletes who reach higher peaks of performance feel that being “in training” is about how they behave on a consistent basis. Yes, high-performance athletes have lives outside of training and must go to work, attend school or university, and fulfil family responsibilities. However, they also manage more than adequately to undertake “self-care” activities. The higher the athlete pushes their “red line”, the more they must attend to nutrition, sleep, and body maintenance activities to avoid the collapse of well-being that is not common among athletes training 5 or more days per week. In the modern age, a major threat to athletes is the accessibility of entertainment media on sleep. Increasingly, research shows that the incidence of sleep deprivation is major health concern as it becomes harder and harder for athletes to disengage from digital media. There is also the disruptive influence of technology in training sessions as well.

As the athlete grows in experience and seeks higher performance goals, it is likely they will take incremental steps to increase their training load. Ultimately, the motivated athlete will feel that training is not simply something that happens in the gym, but becomes a life effort that is constant and unceasing.

In attempting to achieve higher performance goals, the more serious athlete must increasingly engage in self-care activities to depress the levels of stress associated with increasing training load. These self-care activities help the athlete accomplish better training, push the “red line” further and stem the incidence of injury and over-training.

I need to know your mind

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

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

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Auto-regulation in Weightlifting Training

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

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The Meaning of “Push”

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

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

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

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

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. Read More

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.Receiving position for the jerk

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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.