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Formulas, Mathematics & Humans: Individualized Weightlifting Programming
Greg Everett  |  Olympic Weightlifting  |  January 13 2014

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Formulas, Mathematics & Humans: Individualized Weightlifting Programming, Greg Everett,
I had a conversation yesterday with a strength coach who stopped by the gym about how I individualize my lifters' programs. He asked how precise I got in terms of the volume of certain lifts within certain intensity ranges, if I consider the ratio of classic lifts to squats, and similar metrics.

I explained that primarily, I rely on experience with each lifter to determine what does and doesn't work for that individual. In other words, I don't usually go through a process of calculations, but rather create a program for a given individual that comes from the convergence of my many program templates (really programs I've written for lifters in the past and then have used as guides repeatedly), experience coaching the lifter and seeing what they respond to best, and the needs of that lifter at that time.

Yes, I consider the ratio of squats to classic lifts, but only in a vague sense - rarely do I get out a calculator and get to figuring. It's always fairly obvious if a lifter has a big disparity in squat strength relative to classic lift strength, and a divergence of a few percentage points from whatever I consider "good" is not going to be what convinces me to do one thing or another. If a lifter back squats 250 and cleans 140, it's not hard to understand that he doesn't need to be doing a lot of squatting, and that I need to first determine why exactly his clean is so far behind and then next program to address those identified problems.

Each of my national-level lifters has an individual program. At times, they can be very similar, all based on the same template, as they're all training toward the same basic goal: snatching and clean & jerking more in competition. And at times, they can be very different depending on what exactly that lifter needs to reach that goal. A few of my lifters are always doing something very different from everyone else; for example, Audra squats heavy every single day. In fact, she does everything heavy every single day, and she does a lot of volume. Why? Because with experimentation, I've found that's what she unquestionably responds best to. That same approach does not work the same way for any of my other lifters, at least not long term. They nearly all train to max daily during certain periods (particularly the last 4 weeks before a major competition), but not the majority of the year.

I track and pay attention to daily and weekly volume and average intensity, and the intensity percentage of every major lift. I write my programs in an Excel template that calculates those things for me to make it a bit easier. From experience with them, I have a good idea of how much volume and intensity each of my lifters can manage, and it varies considerably. The volume I give a couple of them would kill a couple of the others. These numbers also make it easy for me to keep track of what has worked and what hasn't - the more information I have at my disposal, the better I can make decisions on future programs. But again, I'm generally not being incredibly precise with this, because these numbers describe only part of the picture - I have to take into account quite a few other factors, some of which have nothing to do with the training itself, and those things are largely subjective and unmeasurable, so there is a good deal of judgment involved on my part. I don't always get it right, and that's why I'm constantly taking notes and transferring them to those Excel programs I keep filed on my computer. I can refer back to those at any time and get a good sense of what was happening and why, and then use that information when creating new programs.

There is definitely a balance to be found that will best serve each coach. You need a certain amount of information to make good decisions, but too much information can actually become a burden and a limitation. It's possible to become so engrossed by figures that you forget that these numbers reflect the abilities, performances, and needs of a living human being, who is never that simple and formulaic. Combine the math and science with the every day experience and interaction and find the balance that works for you and your athletes: pay attention to the athletes, and you'll know what works and what doesn't without ever having to do a single calculation.
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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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Books, weightlifting, fitness, nutrition, strength, conditioning

Olympic Weightlifting: Cues & Corrections [E-Book]
Olympic Weightlifting: Cues & Corrections [E-Book]
Olympic Weightlifting for Sports
Olympic Weightlifting for Sports
Weightlifting Programming: A Winning Coach's Guide
Weightlifting Programming: A Winning Coach's Guide
Bones of Iron: Collected Articles on the Life of the Strength Athlete
Bones of Iron: Collected Articles on the Life of the Strength Athlete

6 Comments
kumar Doka 1 | 2014-01-13
I love the conversation as well i some from you if possible i have a 13 old girl who is now doung techniques only and sometimes i used to give 50-60 % of her own body weight...weights in snatch n c& jerk in this connection i would i like to know whether ist correct way to give such loads. Please tell me.
Jason 2 | 2014-01-13
Greg, great article on the subtle points of programming. I have a question: do you have an article/refernce I could read that covers "problem solving" when the lifts to squat ratios are way out of proportion? For example, I assumed that if the clean was out of "ratio" with the squat it may be a back strength or technique issue. I've searched for answers but have come up short on information. Anything you can help with would be great and if not and always, thanks for what you do for those only able to follow CA online.
Greg Everett 3 | 2014-01-13
Jason- Not really, because there are a million reasons for any lift to be off relative to another. Back strength and technique both possibilities - but technique could mean a lot of different things, and combinations of multiple problems, etc. Could also be a postural strength issue, i.e. strong in a BS but not in an FS position, etc. You really just have to diagnose the problem for each person based on understanding technique generally and seeing what specific strength deficits/imbalances they may have.
Greg Everett 4 | 2014-01-14
Kumar- You need to give her weights based on what you see. If she is lifting well, the weights are fine. Percent of bodyweight doesn't really mean anything in this case - she could do those lifts easily, or they could be very difficult.
chris 5 | 2014-08-23
Hi Gregg, In terms of monitoring, did you ever use POMS, CMJ or RPE to assess athlete fatigue?
Greg Everett 6 | 2014-08-26
Chris - CMJ isn't worth the time to me - you can see the same information to an accurate enough degree just by watching an athlete train. POMS seems like overkill when again, you can watch and interact with your athlete and make an informal assessment. RPE (I'm assuming you're referring to rating of perceived exertion) is also something you can figure out acurately enough by watching and talking to an athlete during training. All of these things I think can be observed or learned with interaction - no formal assessments necessary.
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