Articles  >  Weightlifting Program Design
Things You Can Get Rid of & Things You Can't: Weightlifting Programming
Matt Foreman
April 7 2014

You’re all adults, right?

I think that’s accurate. I don’t think many kids read these articles. They’re too busy being young, screwing around with their friends and playing video games. Instead of reading Catalyst and getting an education about how to be better weightlifters, they would rather play Grand Theft Auto and get a 1,000-point bonus for shooting a crack whore in the face with an Uzi. That’s what kids these days like to do.

Maybe I’m wrong, and we have a young audience I don’t even know about. But whether that’s true or not, I think most of you are older. That means you’re busy. You have jobs, families, responsibilities, dogs, etc. All of those things take up a lot of time.

And you all want to be weightlifters. That means you have to find time to train in the middle of your hectic life. I don’t have to tell any of you how complicated and frustrating this can get. You practically need to have a PhD in time management if you want to be a serious lifter when you’re in your adult years.

This creates a variety of challenges. One of the main ones is that you have several different things you want to do in your workouts, but your time is limited. If your schedule only allows three or four workouts per week, and you only have around an hour or 90 minutes for these workouts, how are you supposed to fit in all the lifts and exercises you want to do?

I know many of you spend a lot of time online researching weightlifting, and that means you’re constantly getting new ideas. You’ve read a ton of different programs, and many of them have these exercises that sound really cool. On top of that, you watch hours of videos where you see some European lifter named Gigantor Scrotumski snatching 185 kilos while standing on top of a telephone pole, or some other bizarre trick you’ve never heard of. If you’re new, you become convinced that you absolutely have to start snatching on top of a telephone pole if you ever want to be as awesome as Gigantor.

And that’s in addition to all the other training ideas that sound like they’re essential for success. Before you know it, you’ve got an arsenal of lifts that you want to use in your program, including:
  • Snatch
  • Clean and Jerk
  • Rack Jerk
  • Power Snatch
  • Power Clean
  • Snatch Pulls
  • Clean Pulls
  • Front Squats
  • Back Squats
  • Overhead Squats
  • Low-bar Back Squats
  • No-bar Back Squats
  • Hang Snatches
  • Hang Cleans
  • 3-position lifts
  • Deadlifts
  • Zercher Lifts
  • Push Press
  • Military Press
  • Telephone Pole Snatches
  • Deficit Snatches
  • Defecation Snatches
  • Stone Loading
  • Stone Passing
  • Bench Pressing
  • Whatever you saw a Russian lifter doing on YouTube that week
And the list goes on. Then, you realize you have a big problem.

You still have your job…and your family…and your dog…and weeds in your yard…and relatives that think you don’t care about them…and every other friggin time-consuming distraction imaginable. So after all your weightlifting research and the gargantuan accumulation of lifts and exercises you want to use, you still have very limited training time in your week.

You just don’t have the necessary hours to do all those things. That leaves you with an obvious conclusion…you’re gonna have to eliminate some stuff. And that leaves you with an obvious question…which stuff can you eliminate, and which stuff is absolutely essential if you want to keep making progress?

Believe it or not, there’s actually an easy way to break this down.

First, you need to make sure your priorities are clear. Do you want to be a successful Olympic weightlifter? Is that your top focus? If so, here are the training categories you’re probably thinking about:
  • The full competition lifts (SN, C&J)
  • Pulling exercises (SN pulls, CL pulls, RDLs, etc.)
  • Squats (FSQ, BSQ)
  • Assistance exercises directly related to SN and C&J (Overhead SQ, Push Press, block work, lifts from the hang, etc.)
  • “Variety” assistance exercises (deficit OLifts, stone loading, the crazy YouTube stuff, bodybuilding-style lifting, basically everything else that doesn’t fit in one of the previous categories listed above)
So if you have to drop some of that stuff, what’s the pecking order? If time constraints are absolutely going to force you to eliminate things, what can stay and what can go? Here is how you need to look at it, in my opinion:

Things you absolutely have to keep, no matter what, undeniably no question about it:
  • The full competition lifts (SN, C&J)
  • Squats (FSQ, BSQ)
  • If you only have time for one other thing, what should it be?
  • Pulling exercises (SN Pulls, CL Pulls)
**Question: “So does that mean squats are more important than pulls?” Answer: Yes. Pulls are important, but squats are more important.

If you have to eliminate more stuff, what should it be?
  • The first thing to drop is the variety assistance exercises. Many of those things are fun, and some of them are actually useful. But if you want to be a successful OLifter and you don’t have much training time, they aren’t the bare essentials.
  • Assistance exercises directly related to SN/C&J (Overhead SQ, Push Press) are more important than variety assistance. If you’re prioritizing, they’re higher on the list. But once again, look at how much time you have and refer back to what we’ve already said above.
This is a lot like the old question, “If your house was burning down and you could only save one thing, what would it be?”

Well, look at it this way, “If you want improve your OL total and you can only do three exercises, what should they be?”

If your answer is, “Power Snatch, Deadlift, and Low-bar Back Squats,” you’re in trouble. Those things have value, but they don’t give you the most bang for your buck.

Your life is much different from Gigantor Scrotumski. He’s a full-time professional weightlifter. You’re not. So you have to play by a different set of rules than he does.
Please log in to post a comment

April 7 2014
Ghostface Kilo
April 7 2014
Great article--really hits home for all of us aging, desk jockey, suburban dads. I just spent the better part of week researching training plans for this very reason.

I saw Klokov push pressing hot Crawzfit chicks for time. Sadly none are rolling by platform. So...

I settled on Catalyst's 6 Week Basic Rep Cycle...has all the essentials w/none of the fluff.

Keep up the great writing. I got to get back to pushing paper and recovering from pause squats.

April 7 2014
Hey some of us are kids!... Well, if a 17 year-old is a kid. But even so I have the same struggle sometimes with fitting in school, homework, sports, and clubs I don't have much time to actually train on my own. I obviously assumed the full lifts are the most important but I'm glad to see exactly what i should be be spending my time working on.
April 7 2014
I have started to pick and choose and I have focused on:
Clean and Jerk
Complex Snatch
Snatch Pull
some kettlebell work.

any comments?
April 8 2014
I started weightlifting when I was 33 and have been fortunate enough to find a coach with 16 years of experience that still holds a Romanian weightlifting record [280 kg total when he was 15]. My programming contains only the two full lifts and 8 sets of heavy squats - 3 x times/ week. Everything else was just slowing my progress. After 6 months training I can snatch 100kg and squat 180 kg.
April 8 2014
Would you recommend performing defecation snatches on a telephone pole? Or is that going too far? Great article, as usual. When are you putting out another collection in hard copy?
January 5 2015
Any info on prioritizing the assistance exercises directly related to the snatch and clean & Jerk? for example are the power exercises (power snatch, power clean) more important than hang exercises or vic versa?

Joseph Sarti
August 26 2015
Thank you! Great article, appreciate the honest approach and clearly defined parameters.
Gary Echternacht
August 27 2015
Yes the basics--snatch, clean and jerk, and squatting--are necessary. Assistance exercises and variations of the basics should be chosen to remediate specific weaknesses in my opinion. Assistance exercises should be more prominent when a meet is in the distance but much less so as the meet gets closer.

I also like the idea of having one exercise at the end of training that few people do and you can do as something of a "show off" exercise. Not that it is going to make you better. You do it for fun and morale.
Annia Velazquez Padron
April 7 2016
Beautiful so how can we get that program?
Chase K
September 24 2016
Man, I'm 14, and I think I read these articles more then I read my textbooks for school XD