Coaches Guide to Olympic Weightlifting
What the heck goes into developing a full fledged weightlifting program to make a lifter strong enough, technically skilled enough and just gosh darnit good enough to be at the peak of the sport? Where to start? Where to even begin?
As a coach, should you begin with a periodization model, sifting through all the reading material and literature one can get their hands on? Maybe grab the low hanging fruit and develop an athlete’s strength by just going ham with squats, pulls and presses? How about considering reaching for the pinnacle of sound, precise movement and taking the arduous journey of technical mastery? Hell, why not worry about what makes up the ideal nutritional plan? Let’s not even worry about figuring out athlete typing, that’s complicated!
Let’s face it. All of these different factors come into play when we want to develop a champion. A coach’s job is never easy when striving for the pinnacle of performance.
Being that we have developed multiple 12 year olds into adults on senior international teams, we got some great information we are looking to share to help guide you as a coach to greater success training your olympic weightlifting athletes.
How to Generate a Champion
Let’s start by acknowledging the ultimate goal behind olympic weightlifting. That goal is hydra headed. The first head of that goal is to have an olympic weightlifter step on to the platform and execute a snatch as precisely as possible with as much weight as possible. The second goal of that hydra headed task is to have an olympic weightlifter to step out onto the platform and execute a clean and jerk as precisely as possible with as much weight as possible. It’s that simple.
What it boils down to for coaches is to prepare the athletes to be as repeatable as possible with their technique in the snatch and the clean and jerk. If they are able to repeat these lifts over and over and over and over and over again. And then do it again. Well now we as coaches can get them stronger and develop an olympic weightlifter who will be automatic on the platform and be able to hit their attempts on the platform, six for six, all white lights, no press outs, walking away with money in the bank.
That’d be great. Fantastic even.
Coaching is not that easy. We don’t live in a bubble. Things don’t work that way.
Where to Begin: Athlete Typing
First and foremost, coaching begins with the athletes being coached.
“Wow! Really great information there. Didn’t know that one,” monologuing internet-Bro-troll quips in the comments.
Now that we got that out of the way, when someone walks through the doors at Garage Strength we begin by first figuring out what athlete type we are dealing with. There are three types of athletes we are dealing with.
Type 1. Type 2. Type 3.
Who are we dealing with?
The type 1 athlete is what we refer to as a Zen Athlete. Zen athletes are very logical. They approach training with a rational mindset. They listen to the coach and execute as well as they possibly can. Occasionally they break down but, for the most part, they’re consistent, deliberate, lunch pails packed and ready to deal with the marathon grind that is the day in and day out of olympic weightlifting.
The type 2 athlete is what we refer to as the Fragile Athlete. Fragile athletes tend to me more up and down. This is a lot of people. This is not a negative judgement of a type 2 athlete, just an acknowledgement of how to help deal with their training to get the most out of them. For instance, a fragile athlete may come into the gym on a Wednesday and begin with a laundry list of how they’ll never be able to do this or that, how their life is crap, they feel like crap and they’re never going to lift heavy again. Just so happens they show up Thursday, the very next day, and, low and behold, personal bests are being handed out like gifts under the seat for an Oprah audience.
As a coach, fragile athletes are more challenging. From the side of the coach, don’t take the fragile athlete’s behaviors personally and take the emotion out of it from your side. Because let’s face it, this athlete typing struggles handling stress and needs more support from the coach in this department.
Now the third type of athlete, we refer to as the Meathead Athletes. They come in with high energy, hammering bars down to the floor and are hitting big lifts all the time, pushing themselves to the brink of death. Like, barely pulling a clean off the floor but damn the torpedoes, this athlete is diving under that bar, triple bouncing in the hole, just to grind that lift up.
That’s great! Right? Not exactly. With the Meathead athletes they are going for broke all the time. As coaches, we have to figure out how to put a governor on them and create a focus on sound, technical movement while still bringing that aggressiveness to the platform.
Ultimately, the goal when an athlete walks in the door is to figure out their habits. Are they biting their nails? Are they super nervous? Are they super precise how they set their bag down? Do they have a specific routine? Blasting heavy metal? Telling you all their woes in life? Once we start to analyze who these athletes are on a regular basis, this will help us as coaches work towards that ultimate goal of repetitive precision.
What this does, once we start to recognize what type of athlete we are dealing with, we can take a step back and start to figure out technique and strength.
We know for a fact to be precise, to have repetitive precision, we have to understand technique. As coaches, we need to have a technical model. This means that as olympic weightlifting coaches, we need to know what positions we want to see from the floor to the knee, from the below the knee to above the knee--we call that no man’s land. What happens through no man’s land? What happens when we get to the reciprocation point (where the knees begin to come through)? What is the bar doing into the hip; what’s the upper body doing; what are the feet doing? And then, we need to know exactly what happens from the hip to the catch into the stand up. And if we are talking about the jerk, we need to know exactly how the dip, drive and how the split position should look.
Now everytime Garage Strength has an olympic weightlifter step through the door (type 1, 2 or 3), we know what type of technical issues arise and we have a system that helps them learn the technique we want them to lift, not only in a physical perspective, but we want to engage with them in a way that they becomes students of the game. By understanding the olympic lifters athlete typing, helps expedite their technical development.
And then, we can start to factor in the technique by enhancing their strength.
Strength movements are squats and pulls. We can start to lump things into buckets. Buckets full of back squats, front squats, box squats, safety bar squats, single leg squats, snatch pulls, clean pulls, pulls to a target, lift offs and all the other variations along such lines.
But at Garage Strength, we just can’t help but talk about technique. So everything just circles back to technical aspects. From a sport perspective, we have the basic competitive movements of the snatch and clean and jerk as the physical movements within the sport of olympic weightlifting.
We also got variations. Variations might be anything along the lines of a power snatch, a low hang snatch, a power jerk, a power clean, a one block clean, a two block clean, two block snatch, pauses, and the list goes on and on and on. All of the different variations will help develop technique. And yeah, squats and pulls help tremendously in developing technique, but most importantly they’re utilized for adding raw strength.
Ultimately, periodization is the molding together of the technical and strength movements from a macro perspective. Remembering that our ultimate goal as coaches is to ingrain repetitive precision, we need to make sure that we factor in all the components discussed as we use different blocks that can focus on different aspects of the sport throughout the training time frame.
Stepping back, above the clouds, envisioning ourselves as puppet masters, marionetting our athletes through the labyrinth of the periodization, we look down at their strengths, weaknesses and technical issues, we can start to recognize how we can work our various types of athletes through a periodization storyline.
That’s where Parabolic Periodization comes into play.
Here at Garage Strength, we created Parabolic Periodization as a model that is slightly undulating but that is also based around the athlete type. Once we understand the athlete type we are working with, we can understand how they respond emotionally, physically and technically. Their physical response is demonstrated by how quickly they adapt to strength gains. Their technical response is demonstrated by how quickly and rapidly they pick up aspects of coordination and technique. However, the biggest factor of the three in the Parabolic Periodization is the emotional aspect.
And from this emotional aspect, we can bring the olympic weightlifting athlete into this storyline framework within Parabolic Periodization.
Beginning with the Exposure Phase. In the exposure phase we can start to get the athlete into shape and get them to begin to adapt to the repetitive precision goal. We know off athlete typing, that Zen athletes will have more variations in their programming than the Fragile athlete, and that the Zen athletes will be more consistent with their squat numbers as well.
From there, our athletes move into the Comprehension Phase. During the comprehension phase our weightlifters start to understand what is going on, feeling better on the platform, more consistent with their movement and feel a little bit stronger.
This then leads into the Ascension Phase, the absolute most important training part of the storyline. Think about climbing a mountain and putting distance from the base of the mountain and beginning to approach the acme. This is the biggest block. Now is when all the work is being put in. This is when we are hammering forward, getting a ton of volume in and learning the technique effectively. And thinking back to the athlete types, specifically the Meathead Athlete, it is paramount as a coach that you control where they are at because they might start to feel strong, strong and explosive as roman candles on the fourth of July. We can’t have this early on in the training of monstrous lifts.
Because we want those monstrous lifts to occur during the Summit Phase. Visualize it: you’re climbing Mount Everest and you have reached the Summit. The sun shines on you at the literal top of the world. All the work you put in has paid off, you’ve achieved this great, incredible feat. You’ve gotten to the top. Had this incredible feeling. But you can’t stay there. The athlete has to go somewhere.
This leads into the Realization Phase, about a week to three week time frame in which the athletic enlightenment culminates. The realization phase is an “A-ha!” moment, a feeling of euphoria. Just complete, amazing awesomeness. The weightlifter has a quiet mind, all distractions are outside their head, they get on the platform, grab the bar and know exactly what is going to happen. Their body is doing what you as a coach have trained it to do from an emotional, strength and technical perspective how to execute as well as humanly possible.
Cultivate the Body and Mind
As coaches, we have to recognize that a lot of coaching is just based around the physical organism. All we are trying to get is adaptation.
But there is SO MUCH more to it than that.
Coaches who are emotionally invested in their athletes get more out of their athletes. Athletes who recognize their coach is emotionally invested in them gives more.
We coaches are Obi-Wan Kenobi. Our athletes are Luke Skywalker on the hero’s journey. The hero is the athlete. We as coaches need to help guide them along to achieve that repetitive precision. We have to engage emotionally to understand who they are, how they respond to strength stimulus, how they respond to technical stimulus, and then how that all pieces together into the storyline of periodization.
The goal is repetitive precision.
Then take a step back and recognize it is about the athlete, it is about the hero. It is about developing the athlete emotionally, recognizing who they are from an emotional perspective, and then creating the entire system around strength and technical work, with accessory work thrown in to develop throughout the long journey ahead.
A story in which they are exposed to troubles, comprehend what is coming at them, ascend from a place of strength, only to summit and have a euphoric realization. Rinse, wash, recycle and repeat.
The athletes start to buy into you as a coach. They buy into who you are, your training system, because they want to compete for you. And most importantly, you as a coach want to coach for them.
A great system of reciprocity blossoms where coach and athlete are both looking out for each other. We aren’t just looking at an organism, but an individual who has emotions, responds differently to strength cues and technical cues, and ultimately, that is how the Parabolic Periodization model pieces together our entire training system to achieve the best performance possible.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.