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Home > Articles > Glenn Pendlay Articles > Pendlay Beginner Articles
 
Individualizing the beginners program >
 
A Training System for Beginning Olympic Weightlifters
 11/11/2010  by  Glenn Pendlay

A Training System for Beginning  Olympic Weightlifters

I believe that the most important thing to explain about any training system isn’t what it is, but, what it isn’t.   I do not know of any coach that can provide a generic program that is ideal for a lifter that is unknown to him or her.  So this is certainly not a system that I expect to be followed rep for rep and set for set for weeks, months, or years.

Instead, it is a template that provides the beginner athlete or young coach with a reasonable and proven way to structure training.  It is also a program that can indeed be followed in detail until the athlete or coach see a reason to individualize, or in other situations, gain the experience and confidence to individualize training successfully.

Step 1

The first step is to choose the basic workout template and a weekly plan of exercises.  I believe that for beginning athletes training 3 days a week (3 is what we recommend) a snatching exercise, a cleaning exercise, a jerking exercise, and a form of squatting should be done every workout.  In beginners it is also important to develop overall athletic ability, build the conditioning level of the athlete, and prehab to prevent future injuries.  I like to use a series of complexes (several exercises performed in a circuit fashion) at the end of the workout to accomplish this.  Here is how I suggest laying out the workout.

Exercise 1     snatching exercise

Exercise 2     clean and jerk exercise

Exercise 3     squatting movement

Exercise 4      complexes

For the weekly and monthly plan, I recommend laying out a repeating 2 week cycle of exercises.   For beginners, the competitive exercises are alternated so that the athlete spends about half his time doing the actual  competitive exercise and about half doing a variation.  It is important to do the actual competitive lift as required in competition often, but many times variations can reinforce good technique.  For instance snatches from the hang can help teach staying over the bar or reinforce a good second pull position, while doing a clean pull or two followed by a clean can help discourage premature arm pulling.   Back squats are done twice as often as front squats, because they have a larger affect on general strength than front squats, which is important for beginners, and because front squats are already incorporated in the cleans being done 3 days a week.  Pressing exercises are not specifically mentioned, because if they are needed, they are used as a jerk variation.  Complexes are a way to include a variety of different movements that although they are not major exercises, can still aid in developing a young athlete.  Complexes include plyometric exercises like box jumps or long jumps, abdominal and lower back exercises like reverse hypers and planks, conditioning exercises like high rep kettlebell snatches or swings, and prehab exercises like band work for the shoulder joint.

 

Workout 1                                              Workout 2                                                Workout 3 

Snatch                                                     Snatch variation                                       Snatch

Clean variation                                      clean and jerk                                            clean variation

Jerk variation                                         Front squat                                                 Jerk variation

Back squat                                              complex 1                                                  Back squat

Complex                                                  complex 2                                                   complex  

 

Workout 4                                              Workout 5                                                   Workout 6

 

Snatch variation                                    Snatch                                                           Snatch variation

Clean and Jerk                                        Clean variation                                           Clean and jerk

Back squat                                               Jerk variation                                              Back squat

Complex 1                                               Front squat                                                  complex 1

Complex 2                                                complex                                                      complex 2 

 

Keep in mind that this specific template may need modification for some lifters.  A lifter  may have a lot of trouble with the rack position in the clean, and therefore leave out the front squat until the flexibility to do meaningful weight has been achieved.  A lifter might lack the ability to do a full snatch, and have to rely on various snatch variations for some time before alternating back and forth between the full lift and variations is achieved.  But this template, or one very similar, should be worked toward.

 

Step 2

Next we will add in the specific snatch, clean, and jerk variations.  Keep in mind that the level of  individualization increases as we go along in the process.  EVERY BEGINNER should incorporate a snatching exercise, a cleaning exercise, a jerking exercise, a squatting exercise, and at least one complex of some sort into every workout.  Most beginners would be well served by following the the weekly plan as it has been laid out, however, there are definitely those that might not be able to do this.  In this case, the ability to do so should be worked toward.  But when we come to specific exercises then the sets and reps of each workout, some individuality is ok and even desired.    I will lay out a basic plan, for a generic athlete with neither amazing nor poor abilities for any physical quality.  A very average young man or woman. 

Workout 1                                              Workout 2                                                Workout 3 

 

Snatch                                                    Sn. Pull + H.  Sn (knee)                                   Snatch

C. pull + Clean (knee)                          clean and jerk                                            C. pull + H. Clean (hip)

Push  press or push jerk                     Front squat                                                Neck Jerk

Back squat                                              complex 1                                                  Back squat

Complex                                                  complex 2                                                   complex  

 

Workout 4                                              Workout 5                                                   Workout 6

 

Sn. Pull + H. Sn. (hip)                             Snatch                                                         H. Sn. (hip) + H. Sn. (knee)

Clean and Jerk                                       Clean (hip) + H. Clean (knee)                   Clean and jerk

Back squat                                              Bench Press or Military Press                  Back squat

Complex 1                                               Front squat                                                  complex 1

Complex 2                                                complex                                                      complex 2 

 

 

The variations for the competitive exercises are all chosen for specific purposes.  On the snatch and clean, we do the exercise from the hang directly below the knee and at the hip (second pull position) because these are the two most important positions in the pull, and starting lifts from these positions allows beginners to “feel” the correct position more than they can during a full lift.  Lifts from these positions allow correction from a coach, and encourage the development of good technique.  We use pulls immedietly prior to a lift from the hang to discourage one of the most prevelant beginners mistakes, premature elbow bend.

For the Jerk variations, we start with the Neck jerk.  This exercise encourages a correct dip and drive (on the heels), and a correct bar placement at lockout (behind the head).  The Push press is used for two reasons.  One is that it is a very good upper body strength exercise.  The second is that if done correctly, it is excellent for teaching both a correct dip and drive, and a correct lock out position.  It is easier to concentrate on the dip and drive when the weight is lighter and the movement less complicated, and an athlete who finds it difficult to push the bar behind the ears on an fast exercise like the jerk often finds it much easier when the lockout occurs slower like on the push press.

Unlike the snatch and clean variations, the Jerk variations contain a choice, the choice between Bench Press and Military Press.  These two exercises strengthen the elbow and shoulder, and are used for beginners primarily to build enough strength and muscle to prevent injury to these joints.  The choice between them is simply made.  If an athlete has trouble getting the bar behind his or her head at the lockout of the jerk, or displays shoulder flexibility problems, do the military press.  And emphasize pushing the bar behind the head at lockout.  If not, Bench Press.  Simple as that.

Step 3

Adding in the sets and reps is the next step. For the technical exercises (snatch, clean, and jerk variations) choosing your reps range to maximize strength gain is not as important as choosing to maximize technical proficiency.  For the first few months of training a lifter will get stronger no matter how many reps they do, within reason.  I have found that a mix of reps from 1-3 per set works best when building technical proficiency in a beginner.  It is important to learn to make the first rep your best and make it correct, after all, the first rep is the only one you do in competition.  So no program should ever get away from doing at least some singles.  However, it’s very normal for a beginner, when using a light or medium weight to actually see technique improve on the second and even third reps.  This is because lack of technical proficiency keeps the weight from being of a quantity that would lead to any significant fatigue after only one or two reps, and the athlete is receiving feedback from both proprioception and a if available a coaches cue’s.   This often leads to errors corrected on the second or even third rep.    

For the technical exercises (snatch, clean, or jerk related), weight is only roughly planned before the workout.  If the program calls for 5 sets of 2, and your best ever set of 2 is 100kg, but you know you can do consistent sets with 90kg, then as long as warm-ups go well, start with 85-90kg, raise the weight on subsequent sets if possible.  The weight for 5 sets might look like this: 80, 80, 85, 90, 80.  In this situation the lifter did not have his best day.  He felt tired and shaky during warm-ups, and opted to start low.  After two sets he thought he could move up, and did, to 85 then to 90, but 90 was shaky, maybe he even missed one rep, so he returned to 80 for his final set.  Or, the workout could have gone like this:  90, 95, 97, 101, 101.  In this example, our lifter felt great during warmups, started high, and added weight each set right up to a PR, did a great first rep with 101, then barely missed the second.  It was close enough that he tried again on his last weight and made both reps.  I think you get the idea.  Always attempt to work as heavy as possible, but no heavier than a weight that you have consistently good form using.

 It is easy to get carried away adding weight and ruin the position or tempo of your lifts, it is also easy to be too cautious, and not try hard enough to add weight to the bar.  To minimize mistakes in either direction, I recommend the following:  After each exercise, think about how many lifts you were happy with, and demonstrated good position and tempo with, and how many you either missed outright, or demonstrated poor technique with.  Out of every 10 lifts, 7 or 8 should be good lifts.  2-3 can be misses or lifts you are less than happy with.  For a beginner, if you consistently do 10 out of 10 perfectly, you could probably stand to push the weight up a little harder.  If you consistently do 5 good lifts against 5 bad ones, you probably need to back off a bit.

Strength exercises are done for slightly higher reps, because they have less skill component, and at this stage in training we are usually more concerned with building some muscle tissue than maximizing neural efficiency.  The planning for strength exercises also works little differently.  Because of a lesser skill component, strength gain is more linear.  Squatting, Front squatting, push pressing, and military/bench pressing should be started with very conservative weights, and the weights should be slowly increased each workout in a linear fashion.  Most beginners, if they start conservatively enough and progress 5kg per workout on the squat and front squat, and 2kg per workout on the pressing exercises, should be able to progress for several months without interruption.  If this is not successful, “reset” the weight by lowering it between 10 and 20 percent, and starting the linear progression over again.  You can also lower the pace of progression when you feel like you are getting close to a stall.  If this system is correctly applied, it should keep gains coming for the first 3-6 months of training.

 

Workout 1                                              Workout 2                                                Workout 3 

Snatch                                                    Sn. Pull + H.  Sn (knee)                              Snatch

x 1 x 10                                                   (2+1) x 5                                                      x 2 x 5

 

C. pull +H. Clean (knee)                       clean and jerk                                            C. pull + H. Clean (hip)

(2 + 1) x 5                                                x 1 x 10                                                       (1 + 1) x 5   

 

Push  press                                            Front squat                                                Neck Jerk

x  5 x 3                                                    x 3 x 3                                                          x 2 x 5

 

Back squat                                              complex 1                                                  Back squat

x 5 x 3                                                      complex 2                                                  x 5 x 3        

 

Complex                                                                                                                      complex  

 

 

 

 

 

Workout 4                                              Workout 5                                                   Workout 6

Sn. Pull + H. Sn. (hip)                             Snatch                                                         H. Sn. (hip) + H. Sn. (knee)

(2 + 1) x 5                                                 x 1 x 10                                                        (1 + 1) x 5

 

Clean and Jerk                                        H.  Clean (hip) + H. Clean (knee)            Clean and jerk

x  2 x 5                                                     (1 + 1) x 5                                                     x 1 x 10

 

Back squat                                              Bench Press or Military Press                  Back squat

x  5 x 3                                                       x 5 x 3                                                          x 5 x 3

 

Complex 1                                               Front squat                                                  complex 1

Complex 2                                               x 3 x 3                                                            complex 2 

 

                                                                  complex                                                         

 So there you have it, a complete system for laying out a training program for beginning weightlifters.  In part II we will discuss individualization and overcoming common problems and set-backs.

 


Individualizing the beginners program >