The Path to High Performance: Part 2

In Path to High Performance: Part 1, the article identified four challenges that an athlete in the sport of Olympic Weightlifting will face. These challenges are:

  • The pursuit of technical mastery
  • The magnitude of the training
  • Limitations of the training environment; and
  • Self-imposed performance limits

The article followed with a discussion about Technical Mastery and the paramount need for good quality coaching to avoid developing persistent errors of technique. This second article discusses the magnitude of the training regimen required to achieve the superb physical adaptation of athletes who compete at the highest level.

This physical adaptation includes improvements in neuromuscular coordination, muscle and tendon strength, joint flexibility, bone density, cardiovascular fitness and muscle metabolism.  The level of adaptation required can only occur as a result of a training stimulus applied over a long period of time.  This training stimulus is likely to be beyond the comprehension of the average person for indeed the training required is nearly as much as a full-time job and, in reality, requires a lifestyle change.  The athlete will spend 20 hours per week or more lifting weights spread across 8-10 sessions. As High Performance weightlifters will generally have one rest day per week, the number of sessions necessitates twice day training on 3-4 days a week and single sessions on 2-3 days per week. The duration of training will typically vary between 2 and 5 hours per day depending on the number of sessions. Training can be further characterised in terms of the volume of lifts. Much depends on the phase of training but a High Performance weightlifter will regularly reach a volume of 200 lifts performed in 70-100 sets in a single day. This volume will be spread across technical and assistance exercises and will frequently exceed 20 tonnes in a two-session day.

The training regimen of the High Performance athlete produces high levels stress and fatigue. As a result there is a need to spend additional hours on flexibility, recovery exercise and visits to physiotherapy. This takes the time component of training well beyond 20 hours per week.

Furthermore, many High Performance athletes will be intimately involved in their own planning and monitoring of training and this also adds to the time cost.

This magnitude of training is driven by the Law of Diminishing Returns.  Training 2-3 times per week on a regular basis under a weightlifting coach, a 15 year old male will improve 40-60Kg in total in the first year depending on bodyweight and other factors such as prior fitness. The improvement figure for 15 year old females is around 30-40Kg. However each year after their first year, under normal circumstances, an athlete will improve less and less. Furthermore, to achieve this improvement, an athlete will need to invest more and more time into training. So, by the time the athlete is attempting to extract the last 5Kg of possible improvement, their training time will expand by as much as eight-fold.

The expansion of training to the level of High Performance will occur as a result of series of decisions made by the athlete over a period of years. It is inadvisable for beginner athlete to increase training too quickly and advice from an experienced coach should be sought.  Questions such as “do I increase to 4 days a week”, “how can I manage 5 sessions a week”, or “should I start to train twice a day” will inevitably be asked by the athlete. At each step the athlete will evaluate their own potential and weigh up the costs and benefits of increasing the training commitment. The athlete will also evaluate the constraints that allow them to improve further. Such constraints would include sport factors such injuries, available coaching, selection standards and competitors and non-sport factors such as family commitments, career and finances.

The shocking truth about High Performance training will cause even those athletes with enormous physical capability to doubt their own ability. While an athlete might aspire to be great, they may lack the confidence to risk other opportunities that are already occurring in their life. After all, many a successful sporting star will talk about the sacrifices made.

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