One of the most common questions I get through the various media through which I’m connected interminably to the weightlifting world is how to properly warm-up for competition. A lot of people are trying weightlifting competition for the first time and have no coach, and a lot of coaches are finding new athletes who want to try competition, and neither know how exactly it all works in the warm-up room. Understandably, this is a source of a great deal of stress and nervousness. I’m going to try to lay out the process as simply and clearly as possible to help you get started in competition. Understand that this article won’t contain every single minute detail of competition rules and possible scenarios, but it will be more than adequate to get you smoothly through just about any competition so you can start gaining the experience and confidence on your own.
The Basic Competition Process
First, let’s make sure everyone knows exactly what happens in a competition, as it’s quite a mystery to a lot of people who’ve never actually been there. Each lifter has three attempts in the snatch, and then three attempts in the clean & jerk. Each attempt weight can be selected totally independent of the others, but an upcoming attempt can never be less than what’s currently on the competition bar (and you can’t repeat a weight you’ve already lifted successfully, but who would do that anyway?). That is, you can move up in weight even if you miss an attempt, and you can increase by any amount in increments of 1 kg. All attempts in the snatch are completed by all lifters in the session, and then all clean & jerks are completed, normally with a 15-minute break between the snatches and clean & jerks (This break is sometimes reduced somewhat if sessions are running late, particularly in local meets).
Lifters are separated into their weight classes and each weight class has its own session. In most local meets, multiple weight classes are combined into a single session, so there may be a fairly big range.
Lifters will declare their opening snatch and clean & jerk attempts at the time they weigh-in (2 hours before the session starts). These numbers can be changed later, but these declared openers will be used to create the initial lifting order of the session. The weight on the competition barbell will always start with the lowest attempt weight and work up to the heaviest attempt weight of the session. That is, if the lowest snatch opening weight is 80 kg, this will be the first weight loaded on the bar, and the lifter who declared it will be the first lifter. If this is you or your lifter, you need to start warming up before the session actually starts, so if you know or think you’ll be the first or one of the early lifters in the session, be prepared (how to do that later).
Once the next weight is loaded on the bar, the current lifter will be announced, and that lifter then has 1 minute to begin the lift. After each successful attempt, the next weight will be loaded on the bar (or the bar tightened if the same weight will be used by the next lifter). If there are other lifters at the same weight, they’ll all take it before the weight is increased to the next highest declared weight. The order of lifters if the weight is the same is determined first by the lowest attempt number (i.e. first attempts go before second or thirds, and second attempts go before thirds); then the athlete lot numbers (lowest lot number goes first). Pay attention to this because if there are multiple lifts at the same weight you’re lifting, you can be off your timing by a significant amount.
Getting Warmed up at the Right Time
First, you need to determine what your opening attempts and warm-up lifts will be. Let’s say you’re going to open in your snatch at 100 kg. Use a warm-up process that’s familiar to you. In other words, do basically what you would normally do if working up to a 100 kg snatch in the gym, but keep it as low-volume as you can while still getting adequately warm.
An example would be:
I like doing 2-3 sets at the lowest weight. This helps get you nice and loosened up without wearing you out. You can do doubles or even triples here depending on what you need and like. After the first couple weights, stick to singles only. Remember, you’re not training, you’re preparing to lift maximal weights in competition.
The trick to competition is warming up with the right timing so that you’re ready for your opening attempt. You don’t want to still be warming up with 50 kg when they call you for your opener at 100 kg. Likewise, you don’t want to take your last warm-up snatch at 95 kg and then wait 15 minutes until you take your first competition snatch at 100 kg.
The first thing you need to do is check the attempt cards (the cards you entered your opening snatch and clean & jerk on when you weighed-in). They’ll be laid out in order on the table so you can see all of the opening attempts. Find yourself or your lifter and count how many lifts will be taken in the session before your opener. This requires a bit of guess work—you have to make assumptions about how big the jumps each lifter will make between their three attempts to know how many of those attempts will take place before yours or your lifter’s first.
For example, if you’re opening with 100 kg, and a lifter has declared an opener of 80 kg, you can rest assured that lifter will take all three attempts before your 100. It’s unlikely they would make larger than 5 kg jumps (e.g. 80-85-90 kg). Your assumptions need to be based on sound rationale. The smaller the attempt weight, the smaller the increases between attempts will likely be (e.g. a lifter with an opener of 50 kg will likely take smaller increases than a lifter opening at 150 kg). A starting point would be about 2-3 kg for women and 3-5 kg for men. You can also add to this any experience you have with any of the lifters—if you’ve seen them lift before and noticed what kind of jumps they tend to make, or know about what their best lifts are, you’ll have a better idea of what to expect. (You can also adjust as the session proceeds by looking at the kind of jumps lifters took between their first and second attempts, and how they look in their lifts.)
If you’re opening with that same 100 kg, and another lifter is opening at 98, most likely they’ll only take that one attempt before yours. This would change if they miss the weight and repeat, however, but it’s better to have more time than less time. In the case they miss and they’re the only lifter at 98, they’ll get a 2-minute clock to repeat, so that can extend your wait time considerably. Try to take these possibilities into consideration when doing your initial count and be ready to adjust on the fly, because you can’t know for sure who will miss or when.
Once you have your starting count, you can figure out when to do the warm-up lifts you’ve chosen. I like to take a warm-up lift every three competition lifts—this will keep the pace at about every 2-3 minutes. I write down the warm-up lifts backwards—bottom to top—because it’s how I was taught and it makes sense to me. Next to each weight, I write how many attempts out to take it. The above warm-up series would look like this:
95 - 3
90 - 6
80 - 9
70 - 12
60 - 15
40 - 18
40 - 21
Bar – 30
Simple enough—start with 3 on the last warm-up, and count up by threes. Notice I padded the bar warm-up—I want to leave plenty of time at this stage for the lifter to go through whatever routine they do with the empty bar. Adjust this based on what the lifter needs and wants. Also know about how much time they need before they even touch the bar to warm up—whatever dynamic ROM work, foam rolling, etc. they like to do, and be sure to get them started on that in time (and of course make sure they have their singlet on, shoes, tape, etc. in time).
If you’re near the end of a big enough session, you may not start your warm-up until after the session has started. For example, if you count that your opener is 35 lifts from the first one, you would start your bar routine after 5 lifts have been taken, then keep track and keep checking the cards for changes periodically to properly time the subsequent warm-up lifts.
However, if you’re one of the first (or the first) lifter, obviously you need to start this process before the first lift of the session is taken. At local meets, this can be tricky as warm-up rooms are often crowded and cards may not be ready for the next session until very soon before it starts. If you’re unsure, err on the early side. You can always slow down if you find you’re ahead—it’s harder to speed up. Ideally to slow down, you just add a set or two at the lightest weight before moving up. If you really overdo it, you may have to actually drop the weight back down and work back up. In any case, adjust as soon as you can. To speed up, wait fewer lifts between warm-ups (1-2), and try to compress it with the lighter weights and then return to your normal pace with the heavier ones so the lifter isn’t heading into his opener feeling like he just spend 8 minutes running suicides.
In the case of starting before the session begins, you’re just going to change the attempt numbers into minutes. If you’re the first lifter, three attempts out would become 3 minutes before the session starts (at which point they would call your name to come do your opening lift). You can usually drop at least the early warm-ups to two minutes apart also to compress the total time. If you’re not the first lifter, but an early one, combine attempts and time—if you’re 6 attempts out, you would want to take your 80 kg snatch 3 minutes before the session starts, your 90 right when the session starts, and your final warm-up at 95 kg after 3 attempts have been taken (and there are 3 left until you’re up).
Stuff That Can Ruin Your Day
Generally you’re assuming each attempt will take about a minute. Keep in mind, however, that if a lifter follows himself, he will get a 2-minute clock instead of the normal 1-minute clock. So when counting attempts, take that into consideration. If you count 3 attempts, but there are two 2-minute clocks involved, you just went from about a 3-minute wait to about a 6-minute wait—that’s a big difference, especially if this happens more than once.
Have a plan to stall if you need to in such cases. For example, if suddenly there are a series of misses and you have unexpected 2-minute clocks, know what you’re going to do—don’t just stand there puckering. If the weight isn’t too heavy yet, the lifter can repeat it once or twice as needed before continuing to increase. If it’s too heavy for that, drop down and work back up (e.g. if you’re at 90 and need to add 3 attempts, you can do 70-80-90 again).
As a coach, your job is to do everything you can to ensure your lifter performs well. You will be nervous at least the first time you warm a lifter up for a meet—you may be nervous every time for the rest of your life. But you need to stuff those feelings deep down inside where they belong and never let them see the light of day—your mood and behavior and attitude will be picked up by your athlete. If you’re running around the warm-up room pulling your hair out, I promise you you’re athlete will become nervous as well. No matter how much you’re freaking out about the warm-up, lie; everything is fine. Your lifter doesn’t need to be concerned with your stress. Let them sit calmly and worry about nothing but executing each lift.
If it’s the athlete who’s nervous, and one who refuses to sit still and wait for the proper time to begin warm-up lifts, keep them busy with something to do that won’t disrupt the process and wear them out. For example, have them do some singles at 40 kg every minute or two. This won’t tire them out much if at all, and it keeps them occupied so they’ll quit pacing around and driving you crazy. And if they have something specific to do, they won’t do something stupid like get all the way up to 90 kg when they still have 20 minutes until they open with 100.
Sometimes there will be long waits between your competition attempts—too long to just sit and wait. Have a plan for this. Some lifters like doing a snatch or clean pull with something around the weight they’ll be taking next. I don’t like this because pulls feel incredibly heavy relative to the actual snatch or clean. I prefer snatching or clean & jerking a lighter weight that let’s you move and stay warm but doesn’t feel heavy and tire you out. Each lifter will have a preferred method, so experiment.
Finally, some lifters and coaches will try to time their warm-ups by taking the warm-up weight when it coincides with the weight currently on the competition bar. That is, when someone on the competition platform is taking an 80 kg snatch, you would take your 80 kg warm-up. I don’t recommend this method because it’s very unlikely it will actually work out. In a local meet in particular, someone may be lifting very light early in the session—like 50-53-55 kg—and then suddenly the next attempt is 90 kg, and you’ve got 5 minutes to take 6 more warm-up lifts. There will also be times when there are a ton of lifters taking the same weight and/or repeating that weight after misses—then you’re stuck at a given weight for 10 minutes or more. It’s always more reliable to count attempts.
Ultimately you’re going to have to get out there and just do it. Some people pick this stuff up quickly and have virtually no problems. Others will struggle a bit and be extremely nervous for several meets until they get some experience. But everyone will improve over time with more practice. Just remember what I said earlier—if you’re nervous and making mistakes, lie about it.
Get more info in the Weightlifting Competition Guide e-book.