Monday, July 15, 2013

Planning a Training Program - David Webster

How to Construct a Training Plan
for Olympic Weightlifting

Many people making up schedules merely string together a few exercises without giving much thought to the character of the various movements or any thought whatever to the order of the exercises. This of course is entirely wrong. Certain points must be observed if the schedule is to give maximum benefits and also to be as "acceptable" as possible. I almost used the word "enjoyable" in place of acceptable, but I had better not say too much about that or I may put off some novices with world championship aspirations! A schedule should be enjoyable, particularly at the elementary stages, and certain things can help in this respect. Remember, though, that the principles outlined here are intended to give best results in every possible way.

The first thing is that ALL parts of the body should be worked. Avoid missing out squats, for example, because you are not keen on leg work. Even at the very top level, the champions all insist that all-round work is included in their schedules.

Secondly, unless there are physical deficiencies, it is undesirable to overemphasize one particular muscle group. This is not only because such specialization often causes lopsided development or unbalanced strength, but it does sometimes destroy techniques, particularly in those with little experience. There is an old saying that goes, "Strength is the ally of the experienced but the enemy of the novice." In other words, the novice sometimes uses strength instead of technique and gets into bad lifting habits, and I have noticed that where a man is strong in one direction, he tends to use this strength to the exclusion of other parts which have a good contribution to make.

A gradual "curve of effort" should be observed in arranging the order of the exercises. The movements should be listed so that during the workout they become progressively harder in intensity until a peak is reached approximately two-thirds of the way through the routine, and after these harder exercises, there is a gradual tapering off. Let us elaborate on this a little.

You must start easy in order to limber up, get the blood coursing through the veins, increasing efficiency and decreasing the danger of injury. Only fools take advice, which I have sometimes seen given in magazines and books, to go into the gym and do the hardest exercises first to get them out of the way while you are still fresh. What absolute rubbish! Some physiologists maintain that warming up is not necessary and they say this is only a psychological desire. This is just not true. Perhaps some people do too much warming up, but I defy anyone to do top lifts without loosening up, and furthermore, I wish somebody had told my muscles that warming up was unnecessary; my most severe injuries occurred when I had neglected this aspect of training through varius unforeseen circumstances.

In practice, this "curve of effort" works out well. First there should be a  mobilizing exercises, getting the joints working freely and gently stretching the muscles to their maximum so that there are no inhibitions and the minimum of unwanted reflex actions when the real hard work begins. Next you have the lighter resistance exercises, then the hardest ones and finally, the least important ones which are done when your energy may be at a lower ebb. What could be more logical?

One rather fine point: technique work must be done before tiredness sets in. When there is fatigue, the skill element is one of the first to suffer. 

There is one last major factor in compiling schedules and this concerns the primary and secondary effects of the exercises. In most exercises more than one muscle group is worked. The main aim of the exercise we call the primary effect, and the second group of muscles is involved in what we call the secondary effect. For example, it may at first appear in order to do a curl for the arm flexors, rowing motion for the latissimus muscles, and then upright rowing for the shoulders. Closer scrutiny, however, reveals all three work the arm flexors so the secondary effects of the three consecutive exercises clash, and if three sets of each were done then there would have been nice sets all working this same muscle group. This does not mean to say that secondary effects must never be the same in the schedule but does suggest that secondary effects are more important primary effects should not clash in consecutive exercises.

You should try to strike a balance in the type of exercise. There should be some fast, dynamic movements as well as the slow grinding type of work. Different pieces of apparatus, such as racks, benches and blocks, may be introduced for effect and variety.

Work on a long term plan -- that is the aim of this book -- so you can see exactly where you are going and what is ahead. When you are a beginner there are so many exercises which are new to you and most of these will do a lot of good. As you become more specialized and graduate to Olympic lifting, you are trying to improve mainly on two lifts and you can concentrate on these. You must use other exercises to assist you in this aim, but your repertoire is considerably reduced so you must phase your work to do the correct thing at the right time. More will be said about this later.

Theoretically it may be better that the schedule be changed gradually and become progressively harder week by week and change to a new schedule in stages, rather  than have a completely new workout all at one time. This would prevent quite a lot of aches and pains on changing to a new routine and would be more scientific, but in practice, an enthusiast gets a great fillip [something that acts as a stimulus or boost to an activity] from a new schedule and the very aches and pains mentioned are proof to him that he is working out in a different way which should improve him still further. There will undoubtedly be numerous questions on compiling schedules running through your mind after this brief introduction to the subject, and I hope that the answers to many of these will be covered in the rest of this section.

Keeping Records

It is absolutely essential that training be properly recorded if it is to be successful. Notes on all workouts should be kept in training diaries, log books, etc. These show which methods produce the best results and allow future programs to be made up accordingly. Involvement in serious competitive lifting means that you must not only keep notes of all workouts, but you should record every workout lift by lift. All the great champions do this, and it is amazing how useful these notes can be. I have frequently referred back to previous competitions to see how lifters tapered off, how their weight reduced, etc.; all these little notes help you with preparation.

The best clubs have a card system filed in proper drawers; members get their card on entry to the gym and it is filed as they leave after the workout. Others have a rack onto which the lifters pin their workouts. A proper controlled system is to be highly recommended and I strongly suggest keeping a training record book. 

Split Workouts

Split routines are for the truly dedicated enthusiast whether he is a weightlifter, powerlifter or bodybuilder, and I will go as far as to say that few men will reach the top of their sphere nowadays unless they use split workouts of one kind or another. The reason for this is not hard to find. The conventional three-days-a-week with a rest day in between is fine for most folks, but to get to the top of your abilities, five, six or even more times weekly training is very necessary. Success is built on the overload principle, that training must always get progressively harder, but the body must have a certain amount rest in between, and to work the same muscle groups in the same ways each day and on consecutive days is just asking for staleness and with it a termination of progress. To get around this, split routines are introduced so that very hard work is done on one part of the body in one workout and the next one a completely different area is attacked. So although there is no conventional "rest period" individual body parts are being rested. This is an oversimplification of the theory, but it certainly points to the principle.

It is a suitable system for the man who can only spare three nights a week to train in club but wishes to do some extra work at home. In this case he should do most of the heavy work in the gym and on the other days work out on lighter exercises. A weekly program could be as follows:

Schedule 1
(this is the main workout)

Schedule 2


Very often lifters are afraid to decrease the volume of training during the month of the competition, thinking they will not be in good form. This is wrong; work must be tapered off in volume before major competitions, but it is equally wrong to taper off for minor competitions.   


I am often asked about staleness, its effects, and the remedy for it. This is not an easy subject; many coaches feel it is a psychological as much as a physical matter, but I will give my personal views, based on experience and study over the years.

Staleness is usually thought of as the phenomenon evident when progress slows down and halts and performance sometimes even worsens. The lifter invariably demonstrates lethargy and a lack of enthusiasm.

There are several reasons for staleness but it is most common when the lifter tries to gain too quickly, works too hard, and maintains a peak for too long. This does not mean the solution is to take it easy. On the contrary, the lifter must work very hard, but it must be the right kind of work at the right time. He must resist the natural  tendency to continually try to surpass his previous best; staleness results when mental demands exceed physical capabilities.

Excess efforts lead to aimless, or non-productive muscular contractions which override the coordination and reflex actions necessary for smooth performances.

There is also a danger of staleness when skill training is continued for too long. Acquisition of skill allows work to be performed with less effort, so a gain in skill without a corresponding increase in intensity or volume of work eventually results in poorer physical condition.

The Symptoms

Apart from a loss of form, there may also be a disinclination to train, diminished appetite, and insomnia. Weight tends to fluctuate. Usually, there are only one or two of these symptoms, depending on the degree of staleness.

The Remedy

A change of work is the best remedy, but the "butterfly complex" (constant schedule change) should be avoided. I firmly believe that the best way to avoid staleness is long-term planning with phased training covering fitness, strength, and technique on the lines advocated in this material. This gives controlled and calculated variety. It allows for a seasonal dropping off from peak form, well away from the important competitions.

By varying the nature of your work in this way, by varying poundages in terms of intensity and volume in accordance with a long-term plan, staleness should become a rarity.

A Soviet Viewpoint

The Russians maintain, and I agree with them, that you will not achieve maximum results unless there is a good decrease of volume as the major contest approaches. Likewise, frequent tapering off will lead to a repeating of the same results in each contest instead of a big total at the major one. The Soviet coaches believe that essentials for good planning of volumes and intensity are systematic medical supervision and the good health of the weightlifter.

In annual training, physical preparation other than weightlifting is necessary. This means morning exercises must be done for approximately 20 minutes each day or 120 hours annually. There must also be swimming, skipping, light athletics, etc. (depending on the seasons), 1 hour, three times weekly (12 hours monthly) in the second period. This is approximately 125 hours in the year. If we add to these a common physical preparation, then 350 hours must be done annually. (We take this to mean weightlifting exercises.) For special physical preparation, 520 hours must be done annually, which is about 40% of training.

Long-term Planning

If lifters are to reach their full potential, long-term planning is absolutely essential. Many coaches and performers never look beyond their current schedule. In the very highest circles of the sport, at top international level, some coaches claim they have 14-year plans, but a great many have 2-year schemes of work and nearly all good coaches suggest that at least 1-year plans are followed. This means that the schedules for a whole year should be considered right from the beginning of the year and the major competition should be the end product of the 12-month period of training. For some lifters, this will only be an area championship, but for great competitors, it will be the world championships, and with these top men, their own national championships, international matches, etc. In Olympic years, even a Continental championship -- such as the European championships -- must take second place because in these circumstances it is not the highest peak of the year. It can be readily understood that it is virtually impossible for someone of world class to do top totals several times a year and still continue to progress each time.

How to Make and Record an Annual Plan

First of all, you must decide if two peaks or one peak is to be the aim. I consider the ideal to be one principal peak and one subsidiary peak, thus the annual plan consists of two cycles of training. These are similar in character but with the second (and main cycle) being more intensive.

The first stage of planning is a systematic review of the situation. How much can be attained in view of the person's age, amount and nature of previous training, amount of time at present available, other commitments such as business and family, how much motivation there is, level of opposition, etc., etc. All these must influence decisions. You must then look at past and current results. Are there any particular weaknesses? Can a record be set in any lift? Even an area or national record would help promote motivation and assist training for top performers. Schedules can be composed with these special weaknesses and/or strengths in mind. Many sportsmen I meet in clubs just use standard schedules without any adaptations for these and other factors. The schedules which will be outlined are for average, fairly well balanced enthusiasts, but schedules should be adjusted, as outlined above.

While competition results provide the ultimate test of training methods, it is necessary to look wider than this to see if overall progress is being made. The strength lifts, the fundamental exercises and athletic training will give a first class indication of results providing good records are kept. If training shows little or no progress, then there is something lacking in the training plan or its application in the gym. In the training log book, there should be a note of the results. Keep an eye on these records over a long period and you will be surprised at how revealing they can be.

A comparison of strength-type lifts with the best snatch and jerk is also worthwhile. Philip Guenov, the Bulgarian coach, told me of some very systematic research done to discover the interdependence between assistance exercises and the three Olympic lifts. The results of this experiment and research enable us to estimate whether more pure strength work should be done, or whether speed and technique exercises would be more beneficial. A good balance is essential and the reasons for this will be obvious to any clear-thinking coach. The figures suggested in the following guide are based on the lengthy and the methodical research mentioned earlier. They will show where assistance is NOT required.

Back Squat - good balance, equal to 35 kg or more than clean. If 25 kg or less than clean then strength rather than technique training is needed.

Front Squat - good balance, equal to 15 kg or more than clean. If only 10 kg or less than clean, then work on strength. If 20 kg more than clean, then technique work on clean is required.

Obviously with training you can squat with fantastic poundages compared with what you can pull in for the clean, but providing you can do a squat (with feet in the same position as you would rise from in a clean) with 42.5 kg (say 95 lb) more than you can pull in, then you have an adequate reserve of leg strength. Where the squat is much more, you could profitably spend time on other types of work. The reverse also holds true.

A systematic review of plans and weaknesses is just the starting point. The next step is to make out a systematic phased program. This is what I would consider a first-class phased program. I call the pyramid training because  it first builds for the lifter a broad base of fitness and then leads him upwards to the peak of physical perfection and top totals Obviously, mental conditioning is also necessary but this will be discussed separately.

Pyramid Training

Fitness is, of course very specific.

Many champion lifters are not "fit" in the widely accepted athletic meaning. Certainly they are very strong, but in many cases there is room for considerable improvement in efficiency of heart, lungs, coordination, etc. They may be well above average compared with most men, but if maximum potential is desired, something more is called for and a lifter should have a phase of training where real fitness is built. Not only does this give a welcome change of routine, which does physical good, it is also psychologically sound and alleviates staleness. It gives a real solid base for continued progress and helps the body recover faster from effort.

Your training year may be divided into one or two pyramids, depending on your competitive program and how far apart you intend to make your peaks.

Many sports have two major competitions annually so two peaks are desirable, but if you have a preliminary selection followed by just one major competition one pyramid would be more suitable. The length of each phase will be determined by whether there are one or two pyramids. If there is one pyramid the phasing will be roughly as follow:

Phase 1 - (fitness) - 3 months
Phase 2 - (fitness and strength) - 3 months
Phase 3 - (strength and skill) - 3 months
Phase 4 (skill, tapering off, competitions and short rest) - 3 months

If it is a double pyramid the this is the build-up:

Phase 1 - 6 weeks
Phase 2 - 6 weeks
Phase 3 - 8 weeks
Phase 4 - 6 weeks (mainly skill, two weeks tapering off and contest, one week rest)

Bulgarian research indicates that intensity of training is more important than simply tonnage (volume). In the long term, better results will be obtained by increasing tonnage via increased intensity. In fact, Abadejev increased his team's tonnage by 50% in six years. General tonnage is easily improved by spending more time lifting and the Bulgarians often lift twice daily, three times weekly, and once only on the other two days. The Bulgarian lifters work much harder than those in other countries. They often train with weights five to six times a week and more. They use a greater volume and intensity than is the case in other countries; perhaps because they have better conditions and less problems in earning a living. They use about 10% higher intensity in pulls and squats than the Soviet lifters and at an International Training Conference in Sofia it was revealed that the Bulgarians trained as much as 25 hours a week, with a weekly volume of up to 96 tonnes and a monthly volume of 360-370 tonnes, e.g.

How Much Training?

Good lifting technique is extremely important but the lifter's physical fitness and training background play an equally important role. We are fortunate in our sport that we can keep very precise records and adopt a very methodical approach where progression is measurable and apparent. Unfortunately not enough attention is given to an organized program or sound planning.

In lifting we can measure the weight lifted in a single lift, in a competition total, calculate numbers of lifts and training loads which can be indicated in pounds, foot-pounds, or tons. Clearly, the effect of lifting 250 kg. once is very different from lifting 50 kg. five times: the first has a much higher intensity. Among knowledgeable lifters and coaches, there is now a fairly widely accepted approach and this can be explained basically as follows:

Volume (sometimes called total training load or tonnage)

We usually specify training loads in kilos or tonnes and this shows how much the lifter totals in a training session, week, month, or year. You simply add together every lift regardless of which kind of movement it represents. Obviously there is a difference between a "short" movement (heel raise or shrug) and a "large" movement such as a snatch, so if you want to be really precise you can measure foot pounds, i.e. you can multiply the weight in each lift by the height lifted. However, in practice most coaches are agreed that it is sufficient simply to work in total tonnage by obtaining the sum total of all weights in all repetitions.


This is calculated by taking the total training load in a workout, week, month, etc. and dividing it by the total number of repetitions during the same period. You can also use this to calculate the intensity of a single exercise e.g. if in a snatching workout you do
the calculations are as follows
140x3 = 420
150x3 = 450
for at total of 2,440 over 15 repetitions
2,440 divided by 15 = 163 approx.
This is the average intensity. You should also take note of the number of lifts done in the snatch or clean & jerk with over 90% of the present best competition numbers. All this, even the failures (with a stroke through the weight) should be recorded in your logbook.

Light, Medium, and Heavy Training

Training is classed as heavy if 9 or more tonnes are lifted in a session (although obviously the lifter's bodyweight has a bearing on the subject). With this range, the higher the intensity the heavier the workout. Training is also heavy if there is a large number of lifts with 90% or over in the workout.

A medium workout would be 6 to 9 tonnes and a light workout would be 4.5 to 6 tonnes.

Heavy training gets the best results, but it takes the body a week or 10 days to fully recover from a heavy workout and to gain the quickest results one must train with medium and light loads during the recovery period.

Soviet champions, with their fantastic medical back-up to properly monitor recuperation and guard against overtraining, sometimes do two or even three heavy workouts in a row to get maximum effect and then taper off with three or four lighter workouts.  

Novices and lighter weights train alternately on snatch and clean doing only one of these in each workout. In the heavier classed they often do these lifts only once a week and not in the same workout. An interesting point, demonstrating the importance of keeping a balanced view of the subject, is put forward by Dr. Mikhailov, USSR weightlifting physiologist: "To improve results in the snatch you must reduce intensities in all movements, even in assistance work; but improvement of clean & jerk results requires heavy training weights."

Length of Workout

The more experienced the lifter the longer the workout may be. An hour is too much for the complete novice but after a very short time one to one-and-a-half hours is correct. The heaviest, most experienced men man go to three hours on occasion but that depends on whether or not they do physical work to earn a living.

Systemic Improvement

Everybody knows that weightlifting is the most progressive form of training, for in nearly every workout the trainee tries to increase either the poundage handled or the number of repetitions or sets. We are great advocates of such progression. The Soviet coaches have shown us another way to estimate the amount of work. Never let it be said that we have a system which is all our own work -- certainly we may have a unique system, but it is unique only insofar as we have tried to take from other training schemes and adapt them to our own.

The concept I present now is the theory of total work output. The further you progress up the ladder towards world-class performance the more useful the theory becomes but even the least experienced will find it useful to see how much work they are doing compared with others. It is not always the man who lifts the heaviest weights who does the most work!

The Russians call it the load volume, although sometimes they speak of the load or the volume. We talk about the tonnage and mean the same thing as load volume. The load volume, however, is not the only thing which must be considered or else the man in our sample schedule could do numerous repetitions with light weights and get the same end tonnage. The intensity must be carefully graded. Most novices want to keep increasing the poundage of their maximum training lifts and this will often ruin technique, hinder progress, cause staleness and even result in injury. The wise coach will gradually increase the volume by adding a repetition here and sticking on weight there -- thus the tyro is still progressing yet hardly notices the extra work. In your training log you should always keep an eye on the tonnage and intensity. Keep in mind that the "light" squat or dead lifts can add to tonnage without being intensive so must not fool yourself with such poundages. Label your exercises light, medium, or heavy. 80% or more of your maximum can be classed as heavy. Around 75% is medium. I would class light weights as about 50% of maximum. The next question likely to be asked is, "What total tonnage should be used?" The answer is not easy but briefly it depends on the length of time you have been training and, secondly, on which stage of training you are at -- how near you are to a contest. The tonnage will be greatest in the strength and power training period of  a phased program. It will also be high in the middle of the phase where you are concentrating on the Olympic lifts themselves, but then, as you increase intensity (by virtue of the higher poundages in single or low repetitions) the tonnage will begin to decrease. When you are tapering off, your tonnage is still lower.

This should provide a good general guide; more specifically, here are some figures on tonnage, or total work output.

Vorobiev, the Soviets' chief National Coach, says that their top lifters rarely handle more than 115 tonnes in a month. [1 tonne = 1,000 kg. or 2204.6 lbs.] Knowing the Russian system very well and knowing how and when they train, we can say this would include about 27 sessions of which 5 would be very heavy.

Going from the sublime to the ridiculous I can see now that although I was considered to be a hard worker in my own competitive days, I actually did not train hard enough. I did not lift enough tonnes in a workout to reach my true potential. My heaviest Olympic workouts were around 3.6 tonnes and this included a tonne of squats. I probably used heavier workouts in powerlifting competitions! Of course it is quite in order for your tonnage to drop as a contest approaches owing to the change of workouts. Your tonnage will drop by around 25-35%. This is because you are dropping many of the heavy assistance exercises and increasing the intensity of the snatch and jerk. In the tapering off phase it will drop even more. You will reach your heaviest workout about two weeks before the event, then your tonnage takes about a 25% drop with the taper-off so it will seem very low in comparison with your top tonnages in the strengthening phase. This is in order because intensity is high but you must also now start to build up a reserve of energy even with these high intensity workouts. Be sure that at the end of every session you enter in your training log the tonnage you use. It will only take a few minutes to calculate it and then you will see immediately if you are improving and if and when you change your routines you will not be so likely to make mistakes.

In the following tonnage progression program you will see that the lifter is working up to approximately 90% of maximum. This has little increase in intensity but the tonnage has increased from 775 kg. to 1,222.5 kg. [Initial Maximum - 110 kg.]

Tonnage Progression Program (in kilos)

Starting point
Progression 1
Progression 2
Progression 3  
Progression 4  
Progression 5  

From this stage you may wish to continue adding tonnage but also increase intensity. For this purpose, I have devised another schedule -- a dual tonnage and intensity progression schedule. There is a danger of changing the nature of the schedule if numerous sets of 4 repetitions are introduced; adjustments have to be made to retain the main characteristics.

Dual Tonnage & Intensity Progression Program

Starting point
70x3/80x3/90x3/95x2/100x2/102.5x1+1 = 1314.5 kg.
Progression 1
Progression 2
Progression 3
Progression 4
Progression 5
Progression 6
Progression 7
Progression 8
Progression 9
Progression 10
Progression 11
72.5x4/82.5x3/92.5x3/97.5x2/102.5x2/105x1/107.5x1+1 = 1527 kg.

 This program must not be in any way rushed. The very subtle increase of work is hardly noticeable, but you will see by the tonnage that there has been a considerable increase during the period. This is not by any means overambitious, for although there are about 18 increases detailed over the two previous schedules you are not once asked to lift more than your initial maximum, i.e. 110 kg. Of course, this 110 kg. will no longer be your maximum. These schedules will have increased it and you still have not been working at maximum intensity.

Adding more weight and using heavier poundages with the Intensity Progression Program.
Phased Training, pt. 1 - Fitness.


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