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Avoiding Methods That May Ruin Your Olympic Weightlifting Program
Sergey Bondarenko

Addressing the most popular mistakes of weightlifters is a common theme for many articles nowadays. Most of them address weaknesses in technique; some of them are true, whilst others give less accurate advice. However, there is one flaw all of them have: practically they are quite useless. First of all, technique is a quite individual thing. Three lifters may show the same deviation of bar path, one will have it due to badly incorporated movement pattern, other due to imbalanced muscle development and for the last one that would not be even a mistake due to some anthropometric peculiarities.
 
Of course I do not want to offend coaches and expert who write such articles, because often they address really common and widespread mistake. I am just not that sure that such mistakes can be easily fixed without directly working with an athlete.
 
However, there are some cases when highlighting most common mistake can yield really good results if you just stick to certain dos and don’ts.
 
In this article I will address methodological mistakes: those which are often made by self-coached lifters struggling to design their own routine. I do respect such people whether they are successful in their pursuit or not—I do believe that hard work pays off and if you are really inquisitive and committed you will finally learn how to program your training and maintain a constant progress. To help the reader in the long road I will try to make my humble contribution and list few things I do not recommend novice lifters to do.
 
TRAINING TOO SELDOM OR TOO OFTEN.
 
There are two big misbeliefs when it comes to deciding how often shall you train. Some people believe that you need to train as much as possible and that an increase in number of sessions you do in a week always contributes to your progress. That is a common mistake, because sometimes the time you spend to recover is even more important than the time you spend in the gym. When starting weightlifting you are learning new complicated movements and your body and brain need some time to work it through.
 
Another wrong thing to do is to train too seldom (of course with due account to one’s personal time capabilities). This is usually the result of the fear of overtraining. But your weights are really modest in the beginning, so you will never get into overreaching if you train 3 days a week. And in order for your brain to remember all these complex movements, you need a decent amount of practice. I will always recommend 3 days routine for most non-professional lifters. It has been scientifically shown that is considered to be a number matching the natural capabilities of our body to recover.
 
If you feel that you have that much time and energy to train more, go ahead but do it in a clever way—add a day devoted to technique work only (practicing with empty bar, flexibility work etc) or a day of GPP (some box jumps, pull ups; in other words exercises that do not interfere with your competition lifts that much).
 
CONSTANTLY WORKING ON YOUR MAXIMUM WEIGHTS
 
This is simple: You do not want to do it if you want to continue progressing after first months of your weightlifting experience. I know where it comes from—many novice lifters understand that their results are yet low and they can’t wait to increase it. They believe that with these low numbers they can add a few pounds every day and feel really anxious when it does not happen, trying again and again.
 
The notion of intensity sticks to % rather than pounds for many reasons—that is connected with your own maximum results. You should not expect to repeat your maximum every day, whether your best snatch is 100lbs. or 400 lbs. There is, however, a point where it is not applicable: that is the first couple of weeks you are learning technique basics and your results grow not because of you getting stronger, but because of you learning how to perform a lift, getting enough flexibility and the mental attitude for it.
 
Even turning a blind eye toward periodization and other complicated theoretical matters, you know that there are some good days and some bad days. Sometimes you feel like you own the world and sometimes you do not believe that you can lift even an empty bar. You need to respect your body and its feelings and to be cautious about the weights knowing when to push it and when to let yourself have some moderate loading.
 
But consider as a rule of thumb: maximum weights demonstrate your technique and strength, and moderate weights build your technique and strength.
 
IGNORING AUXILIARY ASPECTS OF TRAINING
 
If you are into weightlifting you are probably obsessed about weights, always wanting to lift more and more, and valuing highly every new pound on the bar. That usually makes people neglect exercises which in their opinion do not directly contribute to classical lifts results.
 
When such excited athletes have a choice whether to do some heavy squats or some box jumps and flexibility work, they will often favor the first. Yes, you cannot have too much leg strength, but that should not make you sacrifice many other useful things. After you devote some time to jumps, abs work, aerobics, flexibility etc. the next day you will not come to the gym with a new PR to boast about. The effect of these exercises is not that evident in your training log, but if you consistently focus on pushing these aspects to excellence, you will see how it pays off sooner or later.
 
BLINDLY COPYING TOP ATHLETES’ METHODS
 
If someone is successful in some area, definitely he knows what he is doing. That does not mean, however, that anyone who does the same thing will succeed. The key idea is to get into habit of understanding what are you doing and why do you need it.
 
There is a simple example—high pulls. A good choice for a top athlete, but should be avoided by any novice. It is important to practice it to max out the 2nd pull, but if you do it before other elements of the motion (fast extension, going on toes, shrugging in the right time) are already well learned, you will simply pull the bar with your arms automatically. And that is a completely wrong technique. Try to keep your elbows straight, not allowing your arms to bend, at least for the first year of training. If you do so, when you switch to high pulls, you will never pull the bar with your arms.
 
HAPHAZARD EXERCISE SELECTION
 
When someone unfamiliar with weightlifting watches a competition, most likely he does not understand how rich is the arsenal of exercises to be done behind the scene to finally get these two lifts to perfection. If we consider variations of the lifts, I would say that a solid lifter’s arsenal of exercises shall be somewhere over 50, and then there are also combinations of multiple exercises. Luckily, they are not all supposed to be done at once, and the idea is to know which period an exercise suits, which problems it addresses, and, very importantly, with which other exercises it should be used.
 
I do not expect any novice lifter to make a clear judgment whether a hang snatch pull from middle shin level or snatch pull from blocks from knee level will suit the workout better. In fact, that is not a primary issue to consider. However, there are some things which I strongly urge you not to do, and sticking to this list will definitely do your training good.
 
Things that you do not want to do:
 
  • Put off classical lifts to the final part of session (after pulls and squats) – your legs will be “empty” and you won’t show good technique or speed;
  • Put a heavy snatch day after heavy squats day – same reason, for a snatch you need to be fresh and fast;
  • Put a snatch workout after the day with huge amount of pressing/jerking/push-pressing etc;
  • Doing pulls from the same position you used for classical lift on this day (e.g. if you practiced hang snatch from knee level, following it with hang snatch pull from knee level is inefficient – you shall aim for variation, mixing the positions not to repeat each other, unless it is close to the meet day where you want full range for every exercise);
  • Mixing C&J and snatch auxiliary exercises – there are some situations where you would want both C&J and snatch to be done in one day, but most of your training time you would want to alternate C&J and snatch workouts (there is no reason to follow full snatch with hang clean;
  • Doing heavy back squats on heavy clean day (for most athletes, doing heavy cleans is already a good enough stress for legs, if you follow it by heavy back squats, you won’t hit any numbers, though I guarantee that your legs will be sore next day with a risk to impair next session (doing heavy squats on a snatch day prior to 2-days rest is actually a perfect idea).
 
There are many other situations which I suggest to avoid. If to sum up that into a thumb rule, I would say like this: When making an exercise selection for a workout, aim for synergy and avoid combining exercises which make each other inefficient.
 
I believe that almost everyone is capable of designing a routine that will suit him/herself. Of course there will be many mistakes before you finally learn it and if you do not know where to start from, consider some of the above a starting point.
 

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Sergey Bondarenko is a weightlifting and strength & conditioning coach, Master of sports of international class in Russia. Article translations are by Artem Chupakhin, Sergey’s trainee.

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4 Comments
Brad Rhodes 2016-04-04
Nice article, a lot of true thoughts.
Scott 2016-04-06
Another great article. Excellent points that truly improve a lifter
Anthony 2016-04-27
Best thing I've read in a long time. Many thanks.
Andrew Slezak 2016-04-27
Quality nightly reading information. I definitely found a few flaws in my last 12 week program that you mentioned there at the end that totally make sense now. Although I grew up in a gym, I consider myself a novice lifter because I've only been training specifically weightlifting for 15 weeks or so. I'm on the "Strength by Feel" program now, I'm one week in but studied the 9 week program to really understand how it works and I love the strength specificity. Once I finish this strength cycle, I'll be 10 or 11 weeks out from competition. I've heard don't change a program that's working, but as a novice I feel like I also need to improve my classic lifts technique much like a lacrosse player should practice catching and throwing. Any thoughts on a different program I should run after strength, or should I run strength until just a few weeks out and then spend 4-5 weeks cleaning up my form? Any help is greatly appreciated.

-loved the "American Weightlifting" documentary by the way. Gives me hopes and dreams to start my own middle/high school program one day.
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