The training program we publish on Catalyst Athletics is intended to help individuals improve their Olympic weightlifting as well as strength, power and speed generally.
The program is primarily weightlifting focused, but older cycles do include a small amount of conditioning work 2-3 days/week for those who want to maintain a base level of conditioning. This conditioning work is optional—the weightlifting workouts are complete on their own.
These workouts are not what our weightlifting team or fitness clients perform at Catalyst Athletics—these workouts are exclusively for our online community of athletes. We encourage comments, questions and other interaction in the comments of each workout. We repond to all questions.
If you don't have experience with regular weightlifting training, we suggest you use this starter program.
Individuals may jump in at any time, although they may be starting in the middle of a particular training cycle and consequently this initial cycle may be somewhat less successful than it would be if begun as intended. Athletes can choose to jump in early and use the initial weeks as a time to become accustomed to the training, get a feeling for the amount of work and the need if any to scale the workouts, and to practice what will likely be many unfamiliar exercises. You can post videos of your lifts on our forum to get feedback on technique.
The CA training program is very demanding, and may not be appropriate or possible immediately for everyone. Individuals unaccustomed to this type of training may experience joint pain during the first cycle until they become conditioned to such training. During such a time, the athlete is encouraged to reduce the number of sets to prevent injury and to invest time and energy into mobility and recovery work.
Following the Cycles
Each Monday will have a note indicating what week of the current cycle we are in. For example:
Week 11 of 18
You can also follow any of the past training cycles to suit your needs by browsing them here. You can even get most of them as Excel spreadsheets (we are working on getting all into Excel format).
Combining it with...
Many individuals ask if they can perform both our training and other training simultaneously. While we can’t predict everyone’s response to training, we can say with certainly that very few individuals will be able to handle such a workload for any considerable period of time without burning out completely. These workouts are designed to be a standalone program and as such are extremely demanding—attempting to do both is a recipe for overtraining and poor results. Just as importantly, combining multiple programs is a good indicator that you're trying to achieve conflicting goals at the same time—this never works well. If you can’t stand to commit to it entirely for at least one complete cycle, don’t do it at all.
In addition to some well-known exercises, our workouts occasionally use some less-well-known exercises, particularly weightlifting movements. Descriptions and video demonstrations can be found here. With exercises requiring higher degrees of technical precision, spend the time developing a solid technique base before attempting to load them heavily. More time invested early in technique work will pay off in the long run. As mentioned previously, a good time to do this is prior to the beginning of the next cycle.
Weightlifting prescriptions will be notated with the exercise, the intensity (loading), reps and sets. For example:
Snatch – 75% x 2 x 5
This would indicate snatching 75% of the athlete’s 1RM snatch weight for 5 sets of 2 reps. If a load is not specified, notation for sets and reps will be in the reverse order. For example:
Pull-ups – 5 x 10
This would indicate 5 sets of 10 reps.
For exercise complexes, notation will usually include reps for each exercise performed in the set. This would look, for example, like:
Power Clean + Power Jerk - 75% x 2+1 x 4
This would mean each set is 2 power cleans followed by 1 power jerk at 75%.
Power Snatch + Snatch Balance - 75% x 2(1+1) x 5
This would indicate that each set is 1 power snatch, then 1 snatch balance, then 1 power snatch, then 1 snatch balance for 4 total reps per set.
Prescribed percentages are of the exercise they accompany unless noted otherwise. A notable exception is snatch or clean pulls or deadlifts: percentages of these exercises are calculated from the 1RM of the snatch or clean (this is usually noted in the workout for clarity).
Often exercises will have other types of loading prescriptions, including heavy single and max or max for day. Heavy single indicates taking the exercise to the heaviest weight for a single rep that can be managed in that training session. This is determined simply by gradually increasing the weight until that criterion is met without any failed attempts. If an attempt does fail, but the reason for failure is obviously technical in nature, the athlete can make another attempt. Otherwise the loading increase should stop when the athlete completes a rep he or she is confident is approximately the best possible at that time. Max or max for day, on the other hand, is a genuine test of a maximal effort. In this case, the athlete can give him- or herself up to 3 attempts at a given weight. If after 3 attempts the athlete is still unsuccessful, he or she is done with that exercise. An exception would be an athlete who is missing based on minor and known technical errors, and who is able to continue making attempts that are at least as close or better than previous attempts at that weight. In such cases, continued attempts are recommended until this trend reverses.
Similar to the heavy single would be multiple reps with the "heavy" notation, e.g. heavy 3. This simply means taking the exercise up to the heaviest set of 3 reps you feel you're able to do that day.
RM stands for "rep max" and means you'll take the exercise up to a maximum weight for the prescribed reps, e.g. 3RM, 5RM, 1RM. If percentages follow an RM prescription, they are of that day's RM, not of the athlete's current 1RM. For example:
3RM, 90% x 3 x 2
This would mean taking the exercise up to a max weight for 3 reps, then doing 2 more sets of 3 at 90% of that maximum weight.
If a loading prescription is absent for a particular exercise, the athlete should choose the loading to approximate the heaviest possible for the prescribed sets and reps unless some other quality is prescribed. For conditioning workouts, attempt to select weights that allow you to perform the prescribed reps consecutively in at least the first set.
Ab & Back Work
Ab work should be performed every training day, even if not prescribed in the workout. Include back work as well at least 3 days/week (e.g. back extensions, reverse hypers, back planks) if not prescribed in the workouts.
Rest as needed between sets. Generally 2-3 minutes is a good starting point. For extremely tough work like heavy, high volume squats, 4-5 minutes rest can be taken if needed.
Certain exercises will be accompanied by a 4-digit number that prescribes a speed at which the lift should be executed. The first digit refers to the eccentric portion (lowering); the second to the time between the finish of the eccentric and concentric portions; the third the concentric (lifting/raising); and the fourth the time between the completion of the concentric and beginning of the following eccentric portion. An "X" indicates performing the portion of the movement as quickly as possible.
For example, the a good morning with the tempo 3020 would mean that the athlete would take 3 seconds flex the hip into the bottom positions, not pause, take 2 seconds to extend the hip back to the standing position, and not pause at the top before beginning the next rep
Conditioning workouts will be prescribed as a list of exercises following a set count with prescribed rest intervals if any. For example:
3 sets - no rest:
10 Sandbag cleans to shoulder – 50% BW
20 ball slams
50 m sprint
This would indicate the workout is to be completed in superset fashion with no planned rest between exercises; that is, the total amount of work is to be completed in as little time as possible with correct movement execution.
In other cases, conditioning workouts may involve programmed rest periods within an otherwise straight-through workout. An example might be:
10 Sandbag cleans to shoulder – 50% BW; no rest
20 ball slams; no rest
50 m sprint; 1 min rest
10 Sandbag cleans to shoulder – 50% BW
20 ball slams
50 m sprint
1 min rest
This would prescribe completing all reps of each exercise with no rest between, followed by a 1 minute rest before returning to the first exercise.
There is no need to time these workouts unless you want to compare times to other athletes posting times; however, the goal is to complete them as quickly as possible with the emphasis on quality execution rather than speed.
In addition to basic weightlifting work, there will occasionally be supplemental work such as ab training and the like. These will be prescribed with set and rep counts, and are NOT meant to be completed like conditioning workouts - that is, they should be paced naturally, unless tempo and rest prescriptions are made.
In many cases, this work will be done in compound sets; that is, the athlete will alternate between or among the exercises rather than completing all sets of each exercise before moving to the next. Such sets will be prescribed with letters and numbers associating exercises in each compound set.
A1. Pull-ups x 10
A2. Weighted sit-ups
If there were "B" exercises following these, all 3 sets of A1 and A2 would be completed before the B sets were started.
If ab work is not prescribed during a certain cycle, it is expected that you do it on your own at least 3 days/week.
Splitting up the Workouts
On days for which there are two distinct workouts, e.g. a weightlifting workout and conditioning workout, the two can be performed at different times of the day. Ideally separate the sessions by a minimum of 4 hours. They can also be performed in the written order in the same training session.
Modifying the Workouts
Individuals may find these workouts too demanding, at least initially. In these cases, the workouts can be modified as needed to accommodate the athlete’s recovery ability. Reduce the number of work sets while keeping the weight the same to reduce volume as needed. If this is inadequate, weights can be lowered slightly.
For individuals who are not yet technically proficient with the Olympic lifts, the prescribed percentages will not elicit the desired physiological effect. Because these individuals’ 1RMs are limited by technique rather strength and power, the percentages will be too light and occasionally obviously unchallenging. Athletes will need to use their best judgment in determining how much heavier to take the lift by using the original percentage as a guideline—for example, if the prescribed loading is 95%, the athlete should be very challenged by the chosen weight; if it’s 65%, the loading should be relatively easy.
For more information on modifying the programs, see this article.
Standard Catalyst Athletics Warm-up
If cold, begin the warm-up with some type of monostructural activity; rowing is our preferred activity because it uses such a large amount of muscle mass in a great range of functional motion and doesn’t introduce any impact to joints not yet warm. Running, cycling, jumping rope and the like can substitute in the absence of a rowing machine.
After a 2-3 minutes of this initial warm-up, proceed to foam rolling and then some basic Dynamic Range of Motion (DROM) exercises. After this, move on to a specific warm-up with the barbell appropriate for the workout of the day.
Don’t overdo it—this is a warm-up, not a workout. If you have specific items you want to work on that are not included in the workout, save them for the end so you don’t inadvertently tire yourself out for the actual training.
Workouts will appear on the front page of the site on the day they're intended to be performed. For those who train early in the mornings and are unable to check the workout the day of, the following day’s workout can be seen by clicking the Tomorrow link.