The workouts presented in the Modern Trends in Strength Training series are designed to get you bigger, stronger, or leaner. The programs selected have stood the test of time and have consistently produced success. Here we would like to present a program designed to improve performance in the sport of weightlifting. It is a program created by three-time US Olympic Team Coach Jim Schmitz and has been called the Sports Palace System, named after his gym.
Schmitz is one of the most successful weightlifting coaches in the US. He is a three-time US Olympic Team coach and has coached athletes in seven Olympic Games. He coached three athletes who clean and jerked 500 pounds, and two who have snatched 400 pounds. His lifters, many that he coached from Day 1, enabled him to win the team title at the national championships multiple times. He has also personally coached three women lifters who competed in the World Championships.
What makes these accomplishments even more remarkable is that all his athletes only trained three days a week, once a day, and no more than two hours in a single training session. Rather than sponsored athletes who lived, slept and breathed weightlifting, Schmitz’s lifters held full-time jobs, had families, or were full-time students – they also had their weekends free! And with four rest days per week – regardless if you were a beginner or an Olympian – his athletes tended to be injury-free and thus able to make gradual improvement, year after year.
Schmitz is a 1968 graduate of San Francisco State College who received his degree in physical education. He played on the defensive line, but after graduation decided to focus on weightlifting because he didn’t believe he had the size to play football in the pros -- he was 5’10” and 200 pounds. Schmitz eventually reached a level where he could Olympic press 281 pounds, snatch 275, and clean and jerk 347 at a bodyweight of 200 pounds. In 1972 Schmitz opened a gym on Valencia Street in San Francisco he called the Sports Palace. Ten years later his team won the national championships, defeating the York Barbell Club, which had won the championships for 29 years in a row and had sponsored athletes who didn’t train in York.
Getting into Schmitz’s workout system, it is based on one-month cycles. These cycles repeated, fulfilling the basic definition of periodization. The workouts focused on the snatch, clean and jerk, power variations of these classical lifts such as the power snatch, front and back squats, and pulls. The pulls were essential because with so limited training time, they kept the volume of lifting higher and strengthened the first pull of the lifts. Schmitz also included some unique variations of the lifts, such as power snatching or power cleaning a weight on the first two reps, and then doing the full lift on a third. About 5-6 exercises were performed in a single training session. Here is an example of the exercises used in a single week:
Back squat, power snatch, power clean, push jerk, bench press
Push jerk and jerk, jerk support, overhead squat, hang power and squat snatch, hang power and squat clean, bench press.
Power and squat snatch, power and squat clean, snatch high pull, clean high pull, front squat and jerk, front squat, bench press
The system used percentages based upon one-rep maximums. As a general guideline, the percentages would look like this: Week 1, 75%; Week 2, 85%, Week 3, 95%, Week 4, 100%. This follows the trend of many popular strength programs in that it builds up to higher intensity in three weeks, followed by an unloading week. Friday was the hardest day of the week and focuses more on full lifts; Wednesday is the easiest; and Monday focuses on power movements and often heavier squats.
Except for squats when higher reps were occasionally performed, most of the reps performed were usually between 1-3. The higher the percentage, the lower the repetitions. For example, 70% weights might be performed for 3x3, 80% for 3x2, 90% for 3x1, and 95-100%, 1 rep. Schmitz says with the classical lifts, it’s best to focus on doubles and singles because form breaks down with fatigue and you increase the risk of injury. Pulls can be performed for 110% and deadlifts up to 120%. Here are samples set/rep percentage prescriptions for several lifts performed during a 100% week:
Push Jerk, 50x3x3, 60x2, 70x2, 75x3x2
Back Squat, 50x10, 50x7, 70x5, 80x3, 90x2, 95 x 1, 100x1
Snatch: 50x3x3, 60x2, 70x2, 80x1, 87.5x1, 92.5x1, 97.5x1, 100x1
Clean Pull: 80x2, 95x2, 105x3x2
Clean Deadlift: 110x1, 115 x1, 120x 1
Consider that only a few exercises are performed at the highest intensities in this system. For example, on week three (95%), during one Monday workout the only exercise performed for 95% is the front squat; four other exercises are performed using weights between 75-80%. The week before a competition the training consists of weights that range between 60-80 percent, with the 60 percent lifts coming two days before a competition. The week after a competition, the weights range from 60-80 percent to allow the athlete to completely recover.
Although it seems that not much strength development is taking place in the first two weeks, consider that maximal strength training methods are not the optimal way for a weightlifter to improve their speed and power (as the bar is moving slower with the heavier weights). Certainly, a weightlifter needs to lift heavy weights to get strong, but there are other aspects of training that must be addressed. In fact, if you examine translated weightlifting textbooks and coaching articles from Russia, you’ll find that the primary weight used in most workouts is about 75-80% of maximum.
Such a conservative approach to training keeps the joints healthy and provides plenty of time for recovery. What has often been seen in international competition with US lifters is they hit a peak quickly and then struggle to maintain it, often getting injured. In many cases, the US sent lifters to the World Championships who had not made any significant progress in their lifting totals in five years. Although these athletes earned their positions on the team because they were the best in the country, it raises the question that perhaps some of these athletes were pushed too hard?
The best international lifters of today are following programs that often have them training 5-6 days a week, and often performing multiple training sessions per day. With today’s competitive environment, that may be the only way to reach the highest levels of the sport. But if you are looking for a practical, proven workout system that enables you to lift extremely heavy weights while still having a life, consider Jim Schmitz’s Sports Palace System.