Weightlifting Training in Isolation

Training Program

For those of you who have organised equipment and space so that you can training at home in isolation during this COVID-19 disaster, here is a training program that you might like use. The program will suit athletes wanting to train 3-5 days per week. Athletes training 3 days per week should perform sessions 1, 2 and 5 while athletes training 4 days per week should perform sessions 1, 2, 3 and 5.

The focus of the program is to keep you going in this isolation period, give you some strength development, maintain your fitness and give you a regular dose of technical training on the Snatch and Clean & Jerk.

The earlier 9-week version has been amended to include 3 more weeks.

If you want to make minor adjustments to this spreadsheet, please watch the following video.

Exercise Abbreviations

Download an explanation of abbreviations in the Isolation Program:

In the following section are questions that have been asked about training in this period of isolation and particularly when there is no competition in sight. More questions are welcome.

Question (23/04/20): “Would it be a good idea to stop doing snatch and clean and jerk for 4 weeks to focus completely on leg strength?”

Here is an answer by video:

Question (01/04/20): “If this goes for ages and ages, would it be okay to have a mock meet to lift training percentage? Would there be a value in continuing to periodise training?”

The desire to continue working on a periodised training program towards a “mock meet” is evidence of the very great importance of having goals. Normally a training program that prepares the athlete for competition would follow a recognised pattern which adheres to the “Matveyev Principle”. The basic premise of this principle is that at the beginning of the training program, volume is high but intensity is low. As the preparation continues, intensity increases and volume decreases. Furthermore, at the beginning of the program, training is less in technique (and more in strength development) but as the program progresses there is more emphasis on the competition lifts.

An adaptation of Matveyev’s Principle (12 weeks of preparation)

Ideally, training programs in Olympic Weightlifting are oriented towards a competition and athletes are gradually brought to a peak of readiness at the end of the preparation period. The issue right now is that none of us can predict when the next competition will take place. It could be six months away or more. So what do we do in the mean time to keep every positively engaged in their training?

It is actually a good idea, if athletes are willing, to plan a date for a “mock competition” or perhaps even an online competition where the athlete records a video of their “competition attempts”. Such an online competition may not count for rankings or records but would be certainly useful in filling the void if we are all forced to observe physical distancing regulations for months on end. So one solution is to work towards a “mock competition” around the end of June 2020 using a pretty standard 12 week program.

But in the present situation, there is always room for a novel approach. If there is a possibility of 6 months passing without a competition, the next 8-10 weeks could be spent working carefully but solidly on strength development. Of course this might only suit athletes who have reached a reasonable level of technique proficiency. Beginners should continue to practise predominantly on technique development if they can, for example with some online coaching.

Training for intermediate and advanced Weightlifters is predominately 40% technique and 60% strength. In this next 8-10 weeks, this could be skewed 30% technique and 70% strength. This change may not seem much but in reality, it probably is!

Athletes are always nervous about losing form, losing strength, losing training time, and losing opportunities. Often good athletes are not happy with their training unless they are continually thrashing themselves. So to all athletes I say:

  1. Chill out! Worrying isn’t going to help at all.
  2. Choose whether you want to set a date for a “mock competition” and follow a conventional training program or enter into a period of careful but solid strength development.
  3. You could be a long way from your next real competition and so, for goodness sake, don’t worry about losing form. Put yourself back at square one in the Matveyev scenario and work forwards from there.
  4. Use the extra time you have if you are forced to stay at home to train frequently but really work on your wellness. Pay close attention to improving any niggling injuries (get advice!). Be really sensible and don’t break yourself. Use the extra time to work on wellness i.e. flexibility, fitness, diet, and sleep, as well as your training goals.
  5. If you are going to try a strength development phase – be really careful. A sudden change in training load is a recipe for injury. Instead start your strength training from a low base and work in undulating peaks and troughs fashion with very modest increases for the 8-10 week period. Stay well away from the Russian Squat program or similar. Programs of this nature will improve your strength temporarily but then you will deteriorate and not see any improvement for many a month thereafter, it will set you back!

Question (31/03/20): “I was wondering why you recommended a significant drop in training intensity at this time”.

We have just started what might be a very long period until social distancing measures are relaxed and normal training and competitions can resume. At this time, athletes who are able to continue training at home are confronted with significant change in their daily lives, increased anxiety, and a lack of knowing when normality will return. In regard to home training, they may have lost many days training while they acquire equipment and create a training space, and now they face a lack of face-to-face coach and the gym atmosphere. At any time when their is a combination of risk factors such as significant change in training circumstances, reduced fitness, anxiety and lack of coaching, it is prudent for training to be scaled back. Furthermore, there is strong evidence that stress caused by anxiety or indeed by high intensity training dampens the immune system and increases susceptibility to infection. In the midst of a virus pandemic, it would be sensible to reduce not increase one’s risk of illness.

It is probable that many athletes were on good or rising form just prior to the implementation of social distancing measures. There will naturally be concerns about a scaling back of training intensity that results perhaps in a needless loss of form. Instead athletes will want to continue to improve their training result. However, athletes should be aware that holding onto a high level of fitness in readiness for competition is training strategy that is very punishing on the body and cannot be maintained indefinitely. Attempting to do this under the present conditions may be problematic from both a physiological and psychological standpoint. Instead, a better strategy might be to start “isolation” training relatively low and, when accustomed to the new conditions, work upwards through the period in which restrictions last. Improving week to week will be psychologically beneficial especially at this time.