How should Masters Olympic Weightlifters Train?

Programming for masters athletes can be very difficult. There are a lot of moving pieces. There are a lot of factors and issues in LIFE that need to be factored in when programming and periodizing for masters lifters.

In addition to that, considerations have to be made regarding the masters athletes sporting background, what they did growing up athletically and what they do on a regular basis--physical job or a desk jockey--are all important factors that need to be considered and brought in when training masters.


On top of that, it is important to define what is a masters athlete. At Garage Strength, we recognize that the masters age starts at 35. From there, we lump things into key areas. We begin with lumping 35-45 as the first key area. Then we go 45-55, maybe up to 60, depending on the individual. The third group is anyone over 60 years of age.

Now as we look at these three phases of age ranges, we can start to look at the volume they are able to handle. A lot of the volume they can or can not handle has to do with the type of job they do, the stress of raising a family or not raising kids. This can be different for all the age groups of masters. Just for some perspective, it is a lot easier to change a younger athlete because they have a lot less stressors outside of the gym.


So let’s dive deep into the five key factors we utilize when programming for masters specific weightlifters.

5. Technique!

We want to say that technique needs to be established with all athletes regardless of age.


With that out of the way, we need to focus on technique with masters athletes. Technique comes down to every single movement being performed with optimal patterning. Defining what the lifts need to look like and breaking the movement down to its component parts--floor to the knee, knee to the hip, hip to the catch--is important. All of these technical elements need to be expressed and discussed openly. This needs to be applied to both the snatch and clean and jerk. Make sure to assess the athlete’s positions, mobility and all other factors that play a part in technical execution.

But there is a catch that coaches have to recognize with masters athletes. Coaches need to recognize that most masters athletes already have a technical pattern ingrained neurologically. One of the things we at Garage Strength have learned with masters athletes is that it is really complicated to try and disrupt that ingrained movement pattern. We have realized that not every masters athlete has to move the exact way we want, but realize that the master lifter’s established pattern needs to be refined, not completely readjusted.


It is hard to overcome years of movement pattern conditioning. Still, we need to strive towards optimization through refinement.

4. Understand Expectations And Goals

This is very important. For instance, a masters athlete may have a goal of just being able to perform the movement of a full snatch. The focus then needs to be on mobility and hitting proper positions. The entire program needs to be focused around this goal.


Another may have a goal of competing at masters world championships. In this case, we have to dramatically develop their strength while dramatically improving their technique. Their training will be much more intense than the masters athlete who is just trying to perform the full movement of a snatch.

Regardless of the goal, the coach needs to tailor the program around that goal. Take the expectations and make that the focus in training. It is important as a coach to take and analyze those goals and expectations and make it happen. Use the goals to differentiate and develop their individualized program. 

3. Know Their Background

Masters athletes will come in having been wrestlers or crossfitters for quite a while. They tend to be able to handle quite a bit of volume. Another masters athlete may come through the door who is a certified public accountant; they sit at their desk 60-70 hours a week. It is going to be harder to change and develop movement patterns with the CPA versus the masters athletes who have a recent fitness background.


Another thing is to consider the temperament of the masters athlete. A masters athlete’s temperament plays a key role in their training. If the masters athlete happens to have an extremely competitive temperament, they may benefit from days in which intensity is pushed. However, that competitiveness may not be there every day, so days when light work is completed with a focus on technique is just as valuable.

2. Go For It On Good Days!

On the good days, when a masters athlete is feeling good, push it. Go for broke. Let them push it. Take a PR attempt. Green lights all the way.


They don’t feel good, pull back. Pull back as deep as possible, 50% of their max if necessary. Just get movement going. Masters athletes have certain days where they just can’t lift heavy but need to move. On the certain days they need to move, they will leave feeling better mentally and physically.

A good night's sleep for a masters athlete with kids can go a long way. When that happens and they arrive in the gym, like we said, let them go. However, know that later in the week they may not feel so stellar. And that is perfectly A-okay.


Just don’t push them constantly. That will lead to injuries, frustration with the sport and that is when they will leave the sport.

1. Bodybuilding For Health & Stability 

We have to understand that bodybuilding movements are key for health and stability. It comes back to the idea that if masters athlete can get a pump, they can increase the mind-muscle connection, get some blood flow into specific joint to help with recovery and it feeds into the days that they don’t feel good on the platform they can go do something that makes them feel productive and having accomplished something with training.

At the same time, the bodybuilding movements will improve masters athletes’ health and their joint stability. Factoring where the bodybuilding movement will be in the programming is important. Most masters athletes will have one main technically coordinated lift--it could be a snatch; it could be a clean and jerk. Then they will have one main strength movement. From there they will have their accessories and supplemental movements that will be their bodybuilding.


We want to note, with some masters athletes (and knowing their background) can handle snatching and clean and jerking on the same day. Still, bodybuilding being factored into programming makes the joints feel better and helps masters athletes improve.

Recap

Masters athletes are athletes. Many of them are exceptional athletes. Others are driven, determined and just want to execute a movement they’ve never done before. Wherever the masters athlete may fall, their training can be very difficult because of having so many moving factors. Still, technique is important, knowing their goals and expectations is important, as well as knowing the masters athlete’s background all must be considered when programming. From there, make sure to let them go for it when the iron is hot and utilize bodybuilding movements for health and improved stability. 


DANE MILLER

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.

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