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Modifying Weightlifting Training Programs
Greg Everett  |  Olympic Weightlifting  |  May 31 2011

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One of the most common type of emails I get involve questions regarding how to modify the Catalyst daily workouts or other programs to be fewer days/week. This can be for a number of reasons, most commonly because people are able to train only a certain number of days each week due to scheduling conflicts, are trying to do other training along with weightlifting, or feel they will be unable to recover from five or six days of training per week.

Obviously these different reasons for modification mean different manners of altering the original program. In some cases, there really isn’t a way to accommodate the individual’s needs while maintaining any semblance of the original program and it makes more sense to just create a new one entirely.

When trying to decide what to do with modification, the first step is the same as with creating a new program—determining the needs of the athlete and prioritizing them. If you decide your biggest priority is building more leg strength and the program you’re looking to use doesn’t have very much squatting, it’s probably not the best plan to start with.

Find a program that intends to achieve the same goals you intend to achieve, and from there, pare it down as necessary to make it fit your schedule. Start by peeling off anything you’re sure you don’t need; for example, if your pressing strength is far beyond your other abilities, you’ll be fine temporarily getting rid of pressing exercises. Similarly, if your pulling strength far exceeds your actual snatch and clean numbers, as is the case for most new lifters, you can drop some or all of the pulls temporarily and spend your limited time on the actual competition lifts and/or variations to improve your technical shortcomings on the competition lifts.

In any case, if recovery is your limiting factor, it’s wise to start on the more minimal end of the spectrum, see how you respond and then make additions if you handle the workload well. If you start on the high end and find that you’re not recovering, it will take more time to come back to a baseline to find what you can actually manage as you’re recovering from overdoing it for a period of time.

If you’re doing training in addition to weightlifting that isn’t necessary for a competitive sport, testing or similar, consider dropping it temporarily and focusing on lifting. This frees up far more of your recovery resources and training time, and qualities like cardiorespiratory conditioning and stamina are generally regained relatively quickly.

The bottom line is that the two most important things when modifying or creating a training program are determining the needs of the athlete and prioritizing goals and means.

Let’s consider an example to make the process a bit clearer because it’s not an exact science by any means. It will require some intuition and experimentation, and at least some of the time, you’ll get it wrong and need to adjust more. I’ll use a training cycle from cathletics.com to illustrate possible modifications.

Let’s stick with the leg strength issue. You’re a guy or gal who is in need of some more leg strength. You can only train three days/week rather than the five I prescribe on the site. You find the 10x3 squat cycle, which sounds like it probably has quite a bit of leg work in it. After looking through the cycle, it’s pretty clear that Monday and Wednesday are strength-oriented days that contain squats, pulls, deadlifts and presses. Tuesday and Thursday are primarily classic lift variants and also have conditioning workouts. Saturdays are heavy snatch, clean & jerk and squat singles.

The first priority is leg strength development, so we obviously need to keep the squatting intact as much as possible. We have three days of squats, so that’s easy:

Day 1: Monday squats
Day 2: Wednesday squats
Day 3: Saturday squats

At least temporarily, we can keep the snatch/clean pulls/deadlifts on Monday and Wednesday until and unless we decide we can’t.

The classic lift work is not exactly the same week to week. We have a rotation among snatch, power snatch, clean, power clean, jerks, overhead squats and snatch balances. Let’s say, as is typical, you feel much more comfortable with the power variations of the classic lifts than the squat variations. It would behoove you then to focus more on the squat lifts and skip the powers entirely.

So let’s look at what we might have at this point if we drop the power variants and compress the rest of the work to three days (based on week 2 of the cycle, the first “work” week) by moving Tuesday’s work to Day 1 and Thursday’s work to Day 2:

Day 1:
Back squat – 10x3
Snatch pull – 3x3
Snatch deadlift – 3x3
Snatch push press – 3x5
Muscle snatch – heavy single
Snatch – 9 singles
Jerk – heavy single

Day 2
Front squat – 10x3
Clean pull – 3x3
Clean deadlift – 3x3
Overhead squat – heavy single

Day 3
Snatch – heavy single
CJ – heavy single
Back squat – heavy single
SLDL – 3x5

Obviously this gives us a disproportionately large training load on Day 1. But it also is quite a bit all around, definitely too much for most people to cram into three training sessions. So now we can pare it down by eliminating unnecessary accessory work. Notice first that the conditioning work has never even been included—as I mentioned earlier, this should be the first thing to go if you’re really interested in getting stronger on a restricted training schedule.

The most obvious thing to pull out is the muscle snatch on Day 1. This is a great exercise, but it’s a minor accessory and our focus is leg strength. Next would be the snatch push press; we have overhead squats and snatch balances on Day 2, which will accomplish a similar goal—overhead strength for the snatch. That gives us the following:

Day 1:
Back squat – 10x3
Snatch pull – 3x3
Snatch deadlift – 3x3
Snatch – 9 singles
Jerk – heavy single

Day 2
Front squat – 10x3
Clean pull – 3x3
Clean deadlift – 3x3
Overhead squat – heavy single

Day 3
Snatch – heavy single
CJ – heavy single
Back squat – heavy single
SLDL – 3x5

Much better, but anyone who has done 10x3 squats before knows that it takes a long time and you’re not in the mood to do much else with it. We can pull out the stiff-legged deadlift from Day 3 with the assumption that we’ll be getting plenty of back work with all the squatting, pulling and deadlifting as it is. Instead we can always throw in some back extensions or something quick and not too taxing if we want some direct back work. Then we can move the overhead squat/snatch balance to Day 3 and the jerk to Day 2 to spread the work out a bit more evenly. That leaves us with the following:

Day 1:
Back squat – 10x3
Snatch pull – 3x3
Snatch deadlift – 3x3
Snatch – 9 singles

Day 2
Front squat – 10x3
Clean pull – 3x3
Clean deadlift – 3x3
Jerk – heavy single

Day 3
Snatch – heavy single
CJ – heavy single
Back squat – heavy single
Overhead squat – heavy single

This is looking much better, but now we need to consider the order of exercises. Our snatches, cleans and jerks probably won’t go well following 16 heavy sets of squatting and pulling. We’ll move the snatch/clean and jerk to the front of each workout since we usually want speed and precision work done when freshest. In the original cycle, the squats precede the pulls and deadlifts even though pulls are a quick exercise and more commonly done before squats. However, this cycle’s focus is improving squat strength, so we do the squats first to make sure we have the time and energy to put in the work we need to. On Day 3, we can throw in the overhead squat or snatch balance before the back/front squat since it will be the lighter of the two squats, which means it won’t tire us out for the big squat and will actually help warm us up a bit for it. That gives us this:

Day 1:
Snatch – 9 singles
Back squat – 10x3
Snatch pull – 3x3
Snatch deadlift – 3x3

Day 2
Jerk – heavy single
Front squat – 10x3
Clean pull – 3x3
Clean deadlift – 3x3

Day 3
Snatch – heavy single
CJ – heavy single
Overhead squat – heavy single
Back squat – heavy single

Is this a tough program? Yes, those will be long, brutal workouts, but with four rest days/week, it should be manageable for most people. With this basic template, you can go through week to week and make changes as they occur, e.g. switching snatches with cleans and overhead squats with snatch balances. On weeks you’re feeling too beat down, you can strip away more. On weeks you’re feeling saucy, you can throw in some muscle snatches or snatch push presses where you have time and energy.

In any case, remain flexible and take clear notes to help guide future programming.
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Greg Everett is the owner of Catalyst Athletics, head coach of the national-medalist Catalyst Athletics weightlifting team, publisher of The Performance Menu, author of the books Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches and Olympic Weightlifting for Sports, and director/writer/producer/editor/everything of the documentary American Weightlifting. Follow him on Facebook here and and sign up for his free newsletter here.
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5 Comments
Tim 1 | 2011-06-07
Greg, Thanks so much for posting this. This article is super helpful to me at the moment, since I don't have access to a coach.
Megi 2 | 2013-03-05
If i want to do 4 days. Should i just add one day more. Maybe with less volume? Been looking for 4day program. U guys dont train traditional dl?
Greg Everett 3 | 2013-03-05
Megi- It depends on what you're starting with. If you're taking a 5-6 day program down to 4 that's a lot different than taking a 3-day program to 4. We don't usually train a conventional DL because we're not powerlifters.
Tim Lohrmann 4 | 2013-05-15
Hee Greg! I'm just starting olympic weightlifting and this seems like a great fit for me. Though I do wonder what you mean by "heavy single"... Is this just 1 set 1 rep without additional warm-ups? Thanks in advance and I love this website!! ^^ Ciaoo, Tim
Steve Pan 5 | 2013-05-15
Tim - Heavy single is working up to a heavy single for the day. It is not recommended to attempt heavy weights without a warm up to that weight. You will warm up and work your way up to the best you can do for that day.
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