Olympic Weightlifting Program Modification for Injury
Greg Everett

One of the most common questions we get at Catalyst Athletics is how to modify a program to work around an injury. It can be frustrating, and I’ve seen a lot of people give up on training altogether in response to an injury, but there is nearly always a way to continue training in a way that will allow you to improve something you need to work on while allowing the injury to heal. Depending on the injury, this can require some serious imagination, but it’s not usually that difficult if you’re interested in finding a solution.
The first rule is to avoid aggravating the injury—we want to recover and get back to normal training as quickly as possible, and this means ensuring we’re not protracting the recovery period by continually re-injuring ourselves. That’s not being tough, it’s being stupid. Keep a long term perspective and remind yourself that a short setback is a lot better than a long one.
Figure out what movements you can’t perform, and then figure out your list of priorities to work on. If you’re lucky, these won’t coincide. If they do, you’ll have to move down the priority list until you get to the first elements that don’t affect the injury.
Once you have in mind what you’re going to emphasize during this period, you can start rewriting the program. Essentially we’re simply going to replace what we had to remove with the new work for our chosen priorities—if we’re removing work from our training program, that’s opening up space for something else. Take advantage of this rather than just pulling out what you can’t do and spending the extra time you now have moping around.
I’m going to use myself as an example, as I conveniently just injured myself last week. I sustained a minor tear in my right iliacus during a split jerk. The bad news is that I can’t do anything in a split position (extra bad for me since the jerk is my worst lift); the good news is that I can do anything else. I can feel it a little bit sometimes when squatting, but not in a way that suggests it’s aggravating the injury.
Here is a look at a week of my original program:
W/U: High-knee walking lunge / back extension hold
Snatch Long Pull + Tall Snatch – 3+3
Block Snatch Pull + Snatch (knee) – 1+1
Snatch Pull on Riser
Jump to Split
Jerk Recovery
Weighted back extensions / abs
W/U: High-knee walking lunge / back extension hold
Back Squat
Jerk Bnk + Jerk – 1+1
Push Press
Back Squat Jump
W/U: High-knee walking lunge / back extension hold
Clean Long Pull + Tall Clean – 3+3
Power Jerk + Jerk
Block Clean Pull + Clean (knee) – 1+1
Clean Pull on Riser
Pause Front Squat + Front squat – 1+2
Weighted back extensions / abs
W/U: High-knee walking lunge / back extension hold
Back Squat
Snatch + Overhead Squat – 1+1
Clean + Power Jerk + Jerk – 1+1+1
Back Squat Jump
Weighed back extensions/Abs/beach
So I have several exercises on a few days that I can’t do:
Jump to Split
Jerk Recovery
Jerk Bnk + Jerk
Power Jerk + Jerk
Clean + Power Jerk + Jerk
In addition, I can’t do ab work with hip flexion, so I’m pretty much doing crunches and planks. If you thought ab work was boring before, limit yourself to those two exercises and see how you feel.
I’ll tackle the easy changes first. All jerks have to be power jerks now. This is basically my worst nightmare. (I did consider splitting with my right leg forward—but a few minutes of that reminded me why I split with my left leg forward.) But the good thing is that my biggest problem with the jerk is not driving it high enough. Being forced to do more and heavier power jerks is probably going to turn out to be as helpful as it is unenjoyable. The question is can I just make a straight trade with jerks for power jerks—in this case, yes, because the weights I had planned are within my ability to power jerk (by that I mean they’re under my best single—doesn’t mean it will be easy). The exception will be the third week of this block when I will take these exercises up to true maxes. This will likely limit what I can do somewhat, but again, the effort to try to do this all with powers will probably have a very beneficial effect on my jerk. So we now have:
Jerk Bnk + Jerk = Power Jerk Bnk + Power Jerk
Power Jerk + Jerk = 2 Power Jerk
Clean + Power Jerk + Jerk = Clean + 2 Power Jerk
The jump to split is used to help me work on more aggressive foot transition into the split, balance in the split, and the strength to lock that position up quickly. Since I’m a power jerker now (at least for a few weeks—hopefully not longer), I just need to work on something similar for the power jerk. I chose to do power jerk recoveries—taking the bar from power rack pins from a fairly low power jerk receiving position height for triples. This will strengthen that lower receiving position for me, which is not great currently, and have the added benefit of additional upper body strength and stability work for the jerk in general, which certainly won’t hurt. If I can get stronger and more confident in a lower receiving position, I can power jerk more. And in the worst-case scenario where I have to power jerk at nationals, I’d like to be able to embarrass myself as little as possible.
Since I can’t do a jerk recovery, I switched these to jerk supports. It’s a pain after power jerk recoveries to strip the bar, pull the bar out of the rack, move the pins two holes higher, replace the bar, and reload it, but I’ll be OK. Switching to jerk supports from the higher pins allows me to then take the weights up considerably heavier for 5-second singles (for example, I did 3 triples at 170 for the power jerk recoveries, and then worked up to 220 on the jerk support—no way I could have done 220 from that lower pin position).
For the lunges, I’d really like to preserve some single-leg work because it’s a weakness of mine, but I can’t get into a lunge position with my right leg back. So instead, I’m doing single leg squats on a ply box with my non-squatting leg hanging straight down along the side of the box. It’s not quite the same, and won’t give me the hip flexor strengthening for the rear leg that’s part of the benefit of the lunge, but it’s better than sitting in the corner and crying about it.
This will cover me for this first mesocycle (3 4-week mesos leading into nationals). Hopefully after this, I’ll be back to splitting. If not, I’ll modify the next mesocycle as needed. If I can’t split for that meso, I’m going to have to make a decision on whether or not to commit to power jerking at nationals so I can train accordingly and be prepared. I sincerely hope that’s not the case—I don’t need any help making my jerk worse.
This is an example of a pretty minor injury with relatively easy modification. Years ago I sprained my back badly enough that I couldn’t even lean over the sink to wash dishes without falling over. I couldn’t squat, pull or anything that required any inclination of my trunk. After a week, I was able to do lunges as long as I kept my torso vertical, and add some weight eventually. I could do upper body work that didn’t involve leaning over. In other words, while I did have to stay out of the gym for a few days initially, I was able to get back and train in some fashion pretty quickly.
Remember that in the case of injuries, not training isn’t just a problem for your physical capacity—it’s a psychological problem. Training in some way keeps you focused and motivated and in the right mindset. Just quitting and staying out the gym completely destroys your momentum and puts you in a position to have to get yourself back up to speed from zero in ALL respects, not just the one or few you had to change to work around the injury. Be as pissed off as you want about getting hurt, but find a way to react productively instead of self-destructing.

Free Snatch Learning Manual

When you subscribe to our newsletter for exclusive training tips from Greg Everett & more.

Greg Everett is the owner of Catalyst Athletics, coach of the USA Weightlifting National Champion team Catalyst Athletics, author of the books Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches and Olympic Weightlifting for Sports, director/writer/producer/editor/everything of the documentary American Weightlifting, co-host of the Weightlifting Life Podcast, and publisher of The Performance Menu journal. He is an Olympic Trials coach, coach of over 30 senior national level or higher lifters, including national medalists, national champion and national record holder; as an athlete, he is a fifth-place finisher at the USAW National Championships, masters national champion, masters American Open champion, and masters American record holder in the clean & jerk. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, and sign up for his free newsletter here.

Read more by Greg Everett

Matt 2015-06-08
Thanks for the great info as usual Greg. Timely read for me sitting in the ortho office waiting for my knee x-ray.
Greg Everett 2015-06-08
Good luck Matt!
Mike 2015-06-08
Wow I was just wondering what I was going to do after I strained my shoulder over the weekend making it difficult for me to do anything overhead. I'm in the middle of the 5 wk front squat emphasis program... any recommendations on what I should substitute for overhead mvmts like snatch or jerk? or should I just to stick to squatting, pulls, and cleans to a tolerable weight until the shoulder gets better? Thanks.
Billy 2015-06-09
Great read Greg. Thank you for sharing!

Question: Would you follow the same %s? For example, someone with a knee problem who can't squat below parallel or perform a full snatch or clean, modifying with bottom-to-bottom squats and power oly movements.

How would you modify?
Greg Everett 2015-06-09
Mike -

Stick with the squats, pulls, etc. add additional back and ab work, and start incrementally moving from passive ROM with the arm to unloaded movement, to light weights and slow, controlled movement (e.g. pressing), and then back to the full meal deal as tolerated.
Greg Everett 2015-06-10
Billy -

You would need to adjust the weights - feel them out the first workout, and then do your best to follow the weekly weight changes. For example, if something was originally 85%, and you found you needed to change it to 75%, and the next week it's 88%, change that week to 78% - in other words, you're making the same increases and decreases, but at a modified level according to what you're capable of doing with the modified exercise.
Billy 2015-06-10
Marcus Wolford 2015-06-12
I'm 31, dealing with something that looks and feels just like osgood schlatters on my right tibia/knee. Was getting close to a 500lb squat but have now stopped squatting entirely for a few weeks as it was making me very nervous. Have started doing box squats, split squats and leg presses in an attempt to keep my shin more vertical and less forward knee movement while continuing to work my legs.

Have you or any of your athletes dealt with this Greg?
Greg Everett 2015-06-15
Marcus -

Well... patellar tendonitis is really common, so if you're just getting pain and tenderness at that tibial tuberosity, that's probably what it is. There's an article on the site about coming back from that... actually maybe 2. A search will bring it up.
Thao 2018-09-22
Hi, its fastidious paragraph about media print, we all understand media is a enormous source
of facts.

Arsenal tröja
Free Snatch Manual
When you join our newsletter!

Help support our free content!

Olympic Weightlifting & Sports Performance by Dane Miller

Subscribe to the Performance Menu Magazine