Types of Weightlifting Program

It is not always easy to understand the different types of training program that are commercially available as the program purpose it not always overtly stated. The type of program must be suitable for the athlete’s immediate training goals. In this article, 6 types of programs are explained.

Programs for Competition Preparation

Weightlifting programs for competition generally follow Matveyev's principle.
Matveyev’s Principle

In Olympic Weightlifting, most programs fall into the competition preparation category and have a specific duration in weeks at the end of which a competition occurs.

The specific duration is important and complications occur if the number of weeks until the competition is not an exact match. Attempting to adapt an 8-week program for a 10-week period of competition preparation, or vice versa, incurs a risk that the athlete is not in good condition on the competition day.

Competition preparation programs tend to follow Matveyev’s Principle. In the first few weeks of training intensity is light but volume is large. The intention of such training is to increase the athletes fitness and prepare them for heavier training that follows. As the program unfolds, the volume of training decreases to cater for the need to raise intensity. In the last 7-10 days of a competition program, there is usually a “Taper” in which training volume falls to its lowest level. This allows the athlete to improve their physical condition in readiness for significant effort on competition day.

Competition Preparation programs balance the needs of the athlete for technical skill and strength development as both these factors are critical to performance improvement.

Programs for Skill Development

Skill Development programs have little or no focus on preparing an athlete for competition and there is no Taper in the final week as a result. Training intensity in this type of weightlifting program is reduced to allow the athlete greater freedom to focus on skill execution without the inhibitory effect that heavy weights cause. On this website, a key feature of skill development programs is that the athlete is provided with movement goals and coaching advice for each exercise. Goals include quickness of movement, balance and stability, timing of movement, accuracy of position, acceleration and direction of movement.

Weightlifting programs for skill development provide coaching guidance.

Intensity (or heaviness of the barbell) may be governed by parameters such as percentage of bodyweight, perceived exertion rating or percentage of personal best. Work volume (the number of reps and sets) is governed by the expected duration of the training session which is generally around 60 minutes for complete beginners and 90 minutes for intermediate athletes. For best results, weightlifting programs for skill development should avoid causing excessive fatigue as this is detrimental movement precision.

Programs for Strength Development

Athletes in Olympic Weightlifting are naturally interested in programs for strength development but there are some caveats. Specificity is the number one principle to be observed. A suitable strength development program for Olympic Weightlifting should not exclude exercises and skill drills for technical skill. The change in training emphasis need only be small for a desired effect to take place. An athlete training 3 days per week is likely to complete a total of 12-15 exercises in the week, if they are diligent! A change in training emphasis can be achieved by switching just one or two exercises from a technique focus to a strength focus. If the change is greater, there is a risk that the athlete does not gain in overall performance. After all, training for strength development is an aspect of normal training programs.

A shift in emphasis towards strength development can also be achieved by alteration of training parameters, not just by changing the mix of exercises. In the second half of the 20th century, higher reps per set was promoted as a means to develop strength as it induced muscle hypertrophy (gaining muscle mass). However, strength is also a function of innervation by the central nervous system and its a matter of coordination. Therefore strength development programs must still oblige the Specificity Principle and should not deviate too far from Olympic Weightlifting exercises.

Programs for Rehabilitation

Leg swings exercise
Leg swings is an example rehabilitation exercise not involving a barbell.

Rehabilitation programs are needed when athletes have a low level of fitness as a result of injury, illness or extended time-off from training. Rehabilitation programs begin with very light training loads, especially if the athlete has suffered a back injury. Where rehabilitation from injury or significant medical procedure is the goal, weightlifting programs tend to include general weight-training exercises that are less ballistic to reduce the risk of injury re-occurrence. Activities that do not require the use of a barbell are often included. Where the athlete is returning to training after sickness or lengthy absence from training, the rehabilitation program will resemble a normal program but training intensity is greatly reduced for several weeks.

Programs for Physical Literacy

Children engaging in physical literacy training.

The training approach for prepubescent children must be different from adults. This is due to lower levels of coordination and physical literacy, incomplete skeletal maturation and the tendency of children to play. There are no programs for Physical Literacy as yet on this website but this is a goal. Programs for physical literacy often require group activities (for fun), and provide tasks that promote coordination and exploration of movement. Typically, activities might include small challenges of balance, endurance, hand-eye coordination, novel body positions, and quickness of movement. Such activities do not involved bars and weights initially but this may be introduced in a limited way as the program progresses.

Programs for Reduced Range of Motion

Older age athlete in Weightlifting

Programs for reduced range of motion are particularly useful for athletes starting Olympic Weightlifting in later life. Exercises and skill drills that require movement into deep squat positions are omitted and training intensity is reduced to promote quality of movement and safety. Athletes using these types of Weightlifting program pursue skill, balance and stability, mobility and strength in a manner that builds confidence and enables competition participation. These measures help the 50+ masters athlete achieve better performance and increased enjoyment.