When you’re looking for information about training Olympic-style weightlifters, finding it is easy. The Internet can supply it 24/7, and innumerable coaching clinics are only a signup away. If lack of information is not the problem, what is? Unsupported opinions that lead to misguided training practices. Coaches today could spend all day debating Olympic training strategies, but that would get them – and us – nowhere. Instead, let’s look at some of the most common training errors and what we can do about them.
There are many variables that contribute to success in weightlifting, and of course other coaches will have their own top five lists of errors. As for our list, it can serve as a starting point and get you thinking about how to continually refine your technique or training or, if you’re a coach, the technique or training of your athletes.
#1. Focusing too much on assistance exercises. To reach the highest level of sport performance with minimal risk of injury, weightlifters need to continually refine their technique. This means that the focus of training should be on the classical lifts (snatch and clean and jerk), not assistance exercises. With pulls, for example, the weightlifter uses their arms to elevate the weight higher. In the classical lifts, you must actively use the arms to pull yourself under the bar so you can catch it. If the volume of pulls a lifter performs is too high relative to the volume of their classical lifts, he or she will tend to use the arms to lift the bar and thus not be able to move as fast under the bar. Further, Russian coaches have found that when pulls are performed with more than about 90 percent of an athlete’s 1-rep maximum (for both the snatch and the clean), the movement pattern changes such that it does not resemble that of the classical lifts.
#2. Training too heavy for your technique. In lifting it’s not so much that “practice makes perfect,” but that “perfect practice makes perfect.” In their attempts to break personal records, lifters often sacrifice technique to complete a lift. For example, they may allow their arms to rebend with the bar overhead in the snatch or clean – which is an infraction of the rules – or round their lower back in the pull or the recovery from the clean. It’s one thing to allow for slight technical imperfections in a competition to do your best in a meet, but it’s another to simply not be concerned about sloppy technique in training. Better to focus on completing the lifts and assistance exercises with proper technique to avoid injury – and red lights from the judges.
#3. Not reading your logbooks. It’s not enough to write down how much you lift in a training log; be sure to make notes on how you feel during the lifts. For example, if you make a personal record in the snatch and it felt effortless and you were thinking about pulling back on the bar at the top of the pull, write down in your training log that you were thinking about pulling back on the bar at the top of the pull. That way, when you are struggling with snatches in a future workout, you can look back at these notes and apply them to your current workout. Further, it’s important to look for trends in your periodization programs. If you find that you can’t jerk well the day after a heavy squat session, you may want to adjust your squatting volume or intensity the day before you jerk.
#4. Not listening to your body. Getting injured is one of the biggest impediments to training progress, and even more so, ignoring injuries. Often the athletes the US puts on world championship teams have not made any progress on their lifting for several years – not from lack of effort on the athlete’s part, but from backsliding as a result of injuries. If your lifting is suffering because of a soft-tissue problem, invest in a visit to a chiropractor or physical therapist to get treatment for the condition and learn how to prevent it in the future. There are many “home” treatments, such as foam rolling and mobility stretches, that can go a long way in preventing injuries and helping performance.
#5. Stopping the learning process. There are many variables that can contribute to a weightlifter’s success, and the information about how to manipulate these variables is constantly expanding. Many lifting coaches, and lifters as well, get accustomed to one training philosophy and will not consider the ideas of other coaches. For example, you might be interested to know that Chinese weightlifting coaches believe that women need to take more warm-up sets than a man to prepare for a maximal attempt; often, these athletes will perform the weight they are starting with for their first competition attempt, and lift it for several singles in the warm-up room. If your learning or your progress has stagnated, open your mind to new ideas.
Give these five errors careful consideration and adjust your training if you’re guilty of any of them. Then take the next step and come up with your own list. Keep learning, keep progressing.