Training frequency for Olympic Weightlifting

New clients for online coaching in Olympic Weightlifting often ask how often they should train per week and state that it is their normal practice to train 5-6 days per week. Surprisingly, such clients are beginners relatively speaking, and not experienced high-performance Olympic Weightlifters.

There is a clear need, it seems, for information to help athletes make informed decisions about what is optimal training frequency in Olympic Weightlifting. Here is a table to get started:

Training Frequency Guide

Sessions per weekRationale
1Training once per week is ineffective for Olympic Weightlifting, even for beginners. Progress will be tediously slow or non-existent. Too much time elapses between training sessions for the learning of skill or for the physiologic adaptation of the body. It might suit young children who play a number of sports provided training activities are age-appropriate and expert coaching is received.
2Beginners in Olympic Weightlifting often start on two sessions per week and good progress in terms of skill development and physiologic adaptation can be made for the first six months of training. The time commitment is an easy adjustment to the athlete's life style and motivation and interest in training will generally stay high.
3Training 3 sessions per week is normal for athletes who have moved passed 6 months of training experience and have a growing interest in the sport of Olympic Weightlifting. Provided good coaching is received, this level of training will suffice for novice athletes of 6-24 months experience and all adults of any age who might be described as "recreational athletes". Improvement in performance should be steady during the first 2-3 years.
4Typically, athletes with more serious competitive intentions will start to ask about training 4 sessions per week at the 2-year experience mark, and sometimes earlier. This level of training is a big commitment and is not easily sustained. Athletes must learn to manage their lifestyle and free up other time commitments. The 3 non-training days are important to enable the athlete's recovery from the physical and mental stress of training 4 sessions per week. If the athlete is participating in other sports on non-weightlifting days, they must be aware of the risk of physical degradation if good nutrition and sleep habits are not maintained.
5Training 5 sessions per week should only be considered by athletes of 4 years experience or more, and who are pursuing high level competition goals. This level of training frequency needs very careful management to avoid the athlete being exposed to risks of injury, over-training and psychological harm.
6Training at this level is inadvisable even for high-performance athletes unless the athlete is strictly managed, and 1-2 sessions each week have ultra light and low-impact training content. The lack of rest and recovery that is likely to occur is a major risk for chronic injuries and psychological staleness.
7All athletes in Olympic Weightlifting should have one day off from training each week at least.

Training is an inflammatory process

As a direct result of the physical stress caused by training, the tissues of the body break down and the body needs time, rest and nutrition to build back up again. The training load for a beginner is usually small so the damage done is minimal. However, as the athlete progresses, so does the training load and the athlete will soon begin to experience soreness, fatigue, and a lack of capacity to train. Provided the athlete recovers well after each training session, these symptoms are temporary. However, if training is too frequent or insufficient attention is paid to recovery, the athlete will experience these symptoms on a more prolonged basis. There is an old saying that an athlete’s training is only as good as the amount of recovery that is achieved.

Adapting to the training load

Beginners generally start with a small training load but will adapt to increasing levels of physical stress if it is carefully applied over time. However, even when the athlete is fully professional and managed by health professionals, this adaptation is finite. At some point, it becomes impossible to adapt to further increases in training load and the athlete will suffer not only a degradation in performance but a range of detrimental health effects.

Key advice

  1. Athletes should avoid wishful thinking and overestimating their capacity to attend training. It is not good to ask for a 4-day per week program but consistently only make training 3 days per week.
  2. Appreciate the need for days off from training. It is not just a matter of physiologic recovery but also psychologic.
  3. If you have the opportunity and desire to train 5 or 6 days per week, then realise that the extra time should not be spent doing more of the same. Instead, use the additional time to work on light skill drills, improvement of flexibility and fitness, and maintenance of the body to reduce injury susceptibility.

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