Saturday, October 5, 2019

So You Want to be a Weightlifter (1962)

Here's an exceptionally good Strength & Health article
courtesy of Liam Tweed.

Morris Weissbrot, Tommy Kono, Norbert Schemansky, Joe Pitman,Steve Stanko, Gary Cleveland, John Terpak. 


Getting started in competitive Olympic weightlifting can be a problem. Just how does a fellow get off on the right foot? Many potential champions wither on the vine because they never come across a satisfactory answer to that question. Perhaps the biggest problem is lack of competent coaching. Good lifting coaches are few and far between.

How does a young man make a correct start in competitive lifting? Is there any one best way? To answer these questions, seven weightlifting personalities, including experienced veteran coaches and retired champions, active champions, and a successful young lifter were asked the following: 


 A healthy young man has been following a general course of weight training for six months with good results and now decides to concentrate on the Olympic lifts with the goal of becoming a competitive lifter. He has no coach. How would you suggest he begin, and what would be your basic training advice to him. 


As you will see, opinions and methods differ somewhat, but there is general agreement that correct style is paramount for a successful beginning in this sport. Next in importance is the developing of basic power.

In utilizing the advice given below, lifters are cautioned not to combine the suggested routines of two or more writers. In other words, if you like Norb Schemansky's routine, or Joe Pitman's, follow one or the other but don't try to do both at once, for that would be too much. As you gain experience, you will probably evolve a routine of your own which will include features gleaned from several or all of the participants in this symposium. 

Morris Weissbrot

First off, the neophyte lifter should study different styles and techniques by watching film strips, other lifters, etc., and selecting the one best suited to his own particular physical structure. Learn HOW to do the lifts first. Spend a lot of time practicing with light weights to learn form. A complete new set of neurophysical response patters must be established hence the emphasis on repetitions and more repetitions. 

In addition to the work with light weights for form, technique, and speed, a great deal of work must be done to develop the pull and explosive forced demanded by the Olympic lifts. Power cleans. flip snatches, high pulls, heavy squat - front AND back - rapid deadlifts, heavy bench presses, and, most important, repetition jerks. Too many men can clean heavy poundages only to miss the jerk. The isometric rack can save a lot of time in developing the necessary tendon and ligament strength.

I also suggest lots of work from the hang. Snatching and cleaning from the hang, or from low boxes, helps develop great speed and good, low position.   

When working on the quick lifts, use sets of threes to start, then work up in doubles, one from the floor and and one from the hang.

Press every workout, and do one of the quick lifts, plus pulls and squats. If you snatch one night, do clean pulls that same night . . . and do snatch pulls the night you work on cleans. Squat every workout! Do sets of threes. Include front squats once in a while even if you're a splitter. If you got a a contest coming up, lay off the squats for at least a week before the contest. 

If you have to compete on a Saturday, work up to your starting poundages on Friday night of the previous week. On the next Monday do a few singles with about 85% of your limit. On Wednesday, your last workout, just use very light weights for speed and form for a few sets of threes in each lift. Then REST! 

Learn how to warm up properly! Use light weights to warm up. Too many men warm up too heavy . . . and leave all their energy behind when they finally get out on the lifting platform.

In every contest, select the right starting poundages. Remember, it's not how much you can start with, but what you end up with that counts. Your first attempt should be light enough to act as a final warmup and ensure a total. In the event of a failure, don't jump. Take it over again no matter how light it many have felt. You did something wrong . . . that's why you failed. A good first attempt gives you a big psychological boost . . . don't louse yourself up by starting too high. Don't go by what you can do in training . . . out on the platform is where it counts.

One final word. Get a copy of the official weightlifting rule book and study it, so you know what you're supposed to be doing. And get a copy of Guide to Weightlifting Competition; it contains many valuable hints on training, lifting, and assistance exercises. 

Tommy Kono

It is difficult to generalize on a question like this with the limited amount of space available, but I would say that the first thing any fledgling lifter should do is familiarize himself with, or even memorize the rules and regulations governing the Olympic lifts. Second, secure and study courses or books which explain the correct execution of the three lifts in detail, such as No. 3 and No. 4 of the famous Four York Courses or Hoffman's Guide to Weightlifting Competition. Third, save pictures and photographs of national and international lifters in action which best show the extreme low positions in the snatch and clean. Fourth, not forgetting your particular physique, try to copy the positions of these top lifters, imitating the low positions of the quick lifts.

It is essential to learn the correct style at the very beginning, for once the technique is mastered it is just a question of developing more power and speed to elevate heavier weights overhead. Correct technique in lifting can never be mastered at the beginning if heavy weights are employed. Many times lifters fall into faulty habits because they try to handle too heavy a weight for practicing form and technique.

It would be wise for a beginner in the sport of weightlifting to spend his rest days perfecting his speed, timing, coordination and balance on the quick lifts using an empty bar or an extremely light weight, and use his regular tri-weekly sessions in the gym developing power by doing basic power movements such as high pulls, power cleans, deep knee bends, barbell and dumbbell presses, etc. 

By all means attend a weightlifting contest if a meet is held within driving distance of your town. You will be able to witness the style and technique used by other lifters and thereby get a better idea of the proper execution of the lifts. 

Remember one thing. Faulty habits are hard to erase once they are developed. Learn the correct method of pulling and positioning in the three lifts from the beginning. 

Norbert Schemansky

I'd put this young fellow on a four day a week training system combining power and style. His schedule would look like this? 


Press 5 x 3
Snatch 5 x 2
Clean Grip High Pull 5 x 3
Snatch Grip High Pull 5 x 3


Press 5 x 3
Clean 5 x 2
Squat 5 x 3


- warm up, then do 6 to 8 singles on each lift with about 80% of limit, working on form.


Clean & Jerk
 - warm up, then work up to very heavy or limit poundage on each of the three lifts; finish your workout with some heavy squats. 

This doesn't look like much but it is just about what I am doing now, and it is paying off. Instead of cramming a lot of work into three workouts, the idea is to spread it thinner over four. 

For form, the beginner should obtain pictures of a lifter whose style he feels would suit him and work toward copying that style. A friend or parent, even if not interested in lifting, can observe to see if the young man's style is something like the picture.

A good way to practice form is to take a weight about 60% of limit, do a snatch with it, stand erect, and then with the weight overhead, sink down once or twice into the low position. This can be done with both split and squat styles, and the same thing may be done on the clean. This process will give the trainee the feel and yet won't be too heavy for him to handle correctly.
The hardest part of any program is being able to stick it out for a while to give it a chance to work for you. Don't go changing style every two weeks.

In summary, I'd say that the most important thing in lifting is form You can always build power later. In my own case, this is proving to be true twenty years later, for I'm still gaining power. 

And my final word of advice is TRAIN, DON'T STRAIN.

Joe Pitman 

If you are to be serious about weightlifting, it must be "first in your life," as Bob Hoffman says. You must be willing to sacrifice a great deal of effort and energy. You must set a goal and work toward it at all costs.

A workout should be planned, not haphazard, and I recommend that every beginning lifter record his workouts in a notebook. The training schedule should create interest and keep the trainee from going stale. Changes in your schedule should be made often enough to provide variety.

Emphasis on the three Olympic lifts is imperative; there should be three concentrated lifting days per week (Monday, Wednesday, Saturday) and two pressing periods (Tuesday, Thursday). The lifter should have a limit day every two weeks.

Here's the training schedule I recommend. Be sure to warm up properly, and always wear a sweatsuit to keep warm and prevent injury.

First, snatch. Work up in 10-pound jumps to within 10 pounds of your best. Use sets of threes, then finish with twos and singles. 

Second, clean and jerk. Work up in 10-pound jumps to within 20 pounds of your best. Make two cleans and one jerk with each weight.

Third, press. Press correctly. Work up in 10-pound jumps doing sets of threes and finish off with twos and singles.

Fourth, deep knee bends. These are a must. Taking 20-pound jumps, work up as high as you can, performing sets of three repetitions with each weight. Do full squats and come completely erect each time.

When snatching or cleaning, work up by doing flip snatches and power cleans. Do not split or squat (as the case may be) until the weight gets heavy enough to force you to do so.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays you should press only, working up in 10-pound jumps in sets of three.

Always vary your workouts enough to keep them interesting. Try to break personal records for reps. As you get stronger, go for new records in poundages as you do your sets of threes and twos.

Give yourself six full weeks to prepare and concentrate for an important contest. Arrange your schedule so that you work up gradually to a peak at contest time.

Always work for form, speed, coordination and timing. Remember, you don't get something for nothing. It takes hard work to be a good lifter and there are no short cuts.

Steve Stanko

Basic training for competitive lifting has to consist of practicing the three Olympic lifts. There is no other way to gain the power and skills necessary for success in this sport. 

In the old days, when someone would ask, "How can I build my press up," I would simply reply, "Press, press, press and press!" The same goes for the snatch. Hard training with plenty of total reps is bound to pay off for a new lifter. Never do less than 3 x 5, 3 x 3, 3 x 2, 3 x 1 on the press and snatch.

The dead hang snatch will develop your timing, pulling power (especially the second pull), form and coordination, all of which are most important for a good competitive lifter.

I always say that presses help one in the jerk, and snatches help in the clean. Of course this does not mean that one should not train on the clean and jerk. High reps are not recommended for the clean and jerk, however. In the first place, you should use heavier poundages. Practice the dead hang clean, always jerking the weight on the final rep. Do heavy cleans and jerks at least once a week. Don't forget power cleans for building strength - simply pull the bar up and clean it with a slight dip of the knees, never splitting or doing a definite squat.

The individual must be guided by his own strength and capabilities in selecting the poundages to be used in this type of training. 

After three months on the type of routine outlined above, the new lifter will be well enough along to concentrate on preparing for his first contest. Naturally he will want to bring his records up as much as possible. Single lifts should be practiced, working up to limit or near limit and doing as many singles as possible with this top weight. Then drop back 20 pounds or more and finish off with 2 x 2, 2 x 3, 2 x 4, 2 x 5, decreasing the weight as the weights are increased. This applies to both press and snatch. Train at least three times a week, and try for new personal records about twice a month.

Try both styles of lifting and stick with the style that is best suited to you. I always favored the split style and still do, particularly for the snatch. the two greatest snatchers, Schemansky and Vlasov, both are splitters.    

I can recommend the following assistance exercises as being helpful to anyone determined to become a good lifter: deep knee bend, deadlift, high pulls, dumbbell and barbell presses, and the dumbbell swing. 

Don't forget isometric exercises on the power rack. Do three positions in the press, regular grip pull, and snatch grip pull.

Finally, follow the rules of good living. 

Gary Cleveland

Any logical answer to this question that I could give would be a brief repetition or what has already been written in Strength & Health, with emphasis on the points that seem most important to me.   

To become an Olympic lifter, the most important thing you can do is actually practice the Olympic lifts. To be sure, power exercises have their place, but they are secondary and should not detract from time spent on the Olympic three. The Olympic lifts are not easy to learn. To do a snatch or clean and jerk with a limit weight in perfect form is difficult indeed - I know this because I haven't learned yet - and you can bench press, squat, and deadlift all day but it will not bring you any closer to that perfect form. 

On the opposite extreme from those who advocate what I consider to be excessive reliance on the power lifts are those who say that to learn perfect form you should take a stick and go through the lifts concentrating on form. This will teach you that you can get into the positions, and I'm sure it promotes flexibility, but I've always found that it is one thing to learn perfect form with a stick and a far different thing to do it with heavy weights. And so my advice is to spend a lot of time doing the Olympic lifts - at least twice a week - and while light training does contribute, don't be afraid to go heavy.

As for power exercises, I think you'll have to learn about them by experimenting. No one knows better than yourself what your weak points are and what therefore needs most work. Likewise, only you can find the exercises that help your weak points most. We can make general statements about squats for leg power, pulls for pulling power, and presses for pressing power, but each of these, with the possible exception of the squat, have endless varieties. Which is best for you you'll have to learn by experimentation. 

John Terpak

Young men desiring to start training for weightlifting should adhere to a strict schedule of 

1) eight to ten hours of sleep every night
2) three meals daily (wholesome food - no junk)
3) follow a planned training program regularly

Most training programs will bring results. However, I prefer and recommend this one: 


Press - 50% x 5, 60% x 4, 70% x 3, 75% x 2, 80% x 1-1-1

Snatch - 50% x 5, 55% x 4, 60% x 3, 65% x 2, 70% x 1-1-1

Clean - same as snatch

Jerk - 50% x 2, 60% x 2, 70% x 2

High Pull to Chest - 75% of best clean x 5 using press width grip; 75% of best snatch x 5 using snatch width grip

Front Squat - 75% of best clean x 5


Same program as Monday except 5% more weight should be added throughout.  


Same as Monday using 10% more weight throughout. 

About every third Friday a try-out is recommended. The program on try-out days should be changed to only two repetitions with each poundage and continued beyond the regular schedule increasing the barbell five pounds for each single lift until maximum poundage is reached. 

Because the new lifter has had experience in bodybuilding, the press should present no problems. In the snatch it's a question of which style to use. The split is more reliable. The squat, perhaps more efficient, is equally more precarious. 

The clean, as the snatch, may be performed in either the split or squat style. Whichever style is preferred, that style should be practiced exclusively. It is not advisable for any lifter, beginner or advanced, to practice both styles in the same lift. Doing so will only retard progress.

The jerk is somewhat similar to a fast press except that this lift is started by a short rapid bending and straightening of the legs and as the barbell is elevated the lifter quickly splits under and balances it overhead. The jerk, as well as the other lifts, may best be learned from observing lifters at various contests and from the sequence pictures shown in the chart included with Guide to Weightlifting Competition by Bob Hoffman. 

Correct form in every movement cannot be overemphasized. The program recommended here is by no means an exhausting one. Its purpose is to hold you within your strength limits so that correct form may be the main point of concentration, because most important for lifting success is correct form. 

When combined with speed and strength, correct form leads to Championship Weightlifting.





  1. I'm several years late on this post, but what a brain trust! Really great stuff.

    1. Nice one, eh! Hey, it's from '62 so I'm guessing almost all of us were late to this one.


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