Given this is the Games issue, it’s appropriate to discuss how Olympic Weightlifting plays a role in your preparation for any competition, especially the highly prestigious Reebok CrossFit Games. Whether your goal is a local meet or the big time, many principles remain the same. After all, whatever gets you far probably works. Trust it to carry you to the finish. When you’re competition bound there are 5 key elements to incorporate in your training: consult a legitimate Olympic Weightlifting coach, strive to master your technique, implement proper programming, log and document your experience, and test yourself in actual competitions along the way.
Consult a Weightlifting Specialist
When it comes to your lifting, always consult with a professional periodically, if not regularly. Your success as an athlete will be improved having someone in your camp who specializes in a given area. You don’t necessarily need to include them in your day to day training but certainly in enough of it to improve on your weakness in that area. I recommend once a week or once a month at the very least. It helps if the person has some influence on your programming
Caution: There is growing concern for fraudulent, self-promoting individuals making false claims of their training and experience. Recently a former weightlifter with just enough experience to lie about his credentials was exposed online for not only lying about attaining certifications but for making false claims about achievements and honors, one of which didn’t even exist. These types of individuals have not produced any athlete to any significant level, or else you would have heard about them.
Choosing a Coach: 4 Things to Consider
Usually a coach’s reputation will precede them. You or someone you know would have heard of the coach long before meeting him.
They can answer your questions and if they can’t, they’ll admit they can’t and will do what’s necessary to find the answers for you.
Their credentials and experience are available for you to verify. Research the accolades and resume of anyone passing themselves as a Specialist.
Their experience, style and know-how fits your needs. This last part will be easy. You’ll just know.
Seeking out a qualified, experienced, and legitimate Olympic Weightlifting Coach will help you master your form. If possible, meet a few. Even reputable coaches will each have their own theories or differences among them.
Mastering technique is a career long initiative. I define mastery of the Snatch and Clean + Jerk as the point at which the athlete no longer thinks about what to do but rather feels what to do. It is then that the movement is no longer cognitive but autonomous. As I’ve said before, there’s no such thing as “perfect” technique. “Perfect” technique is relative to the individual. So long as your form is safe, efficient, and comfortable then it is perfect for you!
Form: The Gray Area of Olympic Lifting
Aside from basic safety concerns, form is not a one size fits all deal. I pride myself on adjusting form for my athletes on an individual basis. If you stepped foot in my gym and observed my athletes, regardless of level of experience, you’ll notice one thing: their individual form seems to look a bit different. And why is that? Because all that’s needed is a safe, efficient, and comfortable movement patterns. The rest is style, personal-preference, and choice.
Safety is the easiest to accomplish in a healthy population. It covers the basics, such as flattening or arching the back in the start position, for example. There are basic fundamentals that every Olympic Weightlifting coach will agree on. Without the basics there is a higher risk of injury. Other examples include beginning with the bar up against the shins as opposed to away from the body, having flat feet on the start, or keeping the bar close to the body for the duration of the lift. These are all must haves.
Efficiency is not the same as proficiency, although many use the terms interchangeably. When I refer to efficient technique I mean performing the movement in the best way possible with the least waste of time and effort. I’m talking about mechanics of the lift; saving time and energy. Proficiency refers more to accomplished skill, being better than the competition, which is where we’re trying to be. We know there are ways to get every athlete moving in an efficient manner and due to the varying body types coaches deal with, it becomes a game of strategy to determine what’s best for the athlete. This leads into the last requirement: comfort.
As an elite weightlifter, I learned that comfort outweighs textbook anytime. If an athlete is performing a movement incorrectly it won’t feel comfortable. You can assume if the athlete feels comfortable something is right. It’s that idea that I pass on to my athletes. Other than safe technique, for which there is no substitute, one size does not fit all. There are many aspects of the Snatch and Clean + Jerk covered in literature, seminars, and the like that people may find discomforting, e.g. the rack position. I have trained many elite athletes myself who tend to have positions or placements that would appear incorrect according to text books. However, it’s worked for them. So long as the positioning is safe and efficient for the athlete then it’s permissible.
Without diving too deep into weeks of training, amount of repetitions and sets, every strength program should operate on a cycle. It should start with light weight (intensity) and high reps (volume), progressively change to the reverse, and then repeat with changes as necessary. I like to prescribe an early conditioning phase followed by an end competition phase. They each serve a distinct purpose and as such, athletes should not stay in either phase for too long to avoid adaptation.
Early Conditioning Phase
The early phases should be dedicated to form, low intensity, and possess all the necessary trial & error that comes with training. Try new technique and focus on high reps (volume) to satisfy the metabolic conditioning needed for CrossFit. Though this helps prepare the athlete for the heavy stuff coming ahead, staying here too long can prolong achieving maximal strength.
End Competition Phase
If you’re familiar with CrossFit you’ve seen the increased focus on barbell movements, often times heavier lifts. During the competition phase, strength programming becomes less about technique and more about effort. It’s here that time is spent on reps of 1s and 2s for as heavy as possible, on every exercise possible. There’s no holding back. In this phase the focus is load.
Athlete asks: Coach, if programs should work cyclically then how long should they be? How often should they be repeated?
The answer depends on the time allowed prior to competition. Personally, I don’t agree with writing long programs, of more than 8 weeks. Though an athlete will always have long term goals, you don’t need long term programs to get there. Why? There are too many variables affecting weekly training that are out of the coach’s control. If an athlete were to follow a 12-week cycle, the modifications necessary to cater to these variables would make the regimen look entirely different in the end. Programs are guidelines and don’t have to be followed down to the rep and set. They are flexible and should adjust to how the athlete performs day to day, week by week. Keeping cycles to 6-8 weeks allows for more accurate, educated programming.
Logging & Planning
Logging is a good idea in every aspect of your regimen. It not only serves as a way for you to track your PRs, but serves primarily to help plan your next cycle of training. Every great program is flexible, minimizes weaknesses while maximizing strengths, and is based on results from the program before it. Logging does little good if it isn’t used to prepare the next cycle of training. I suggest heavy note taking, logging, and documenting as much information as possible. Don’t log for the sake of logging. Use it to guide your next plan and as a guide when consulting with your coach.
Test days are not max out days, or PR days. That’s just part of training. Test days are competitions. Regardless of the goal you aim to reach, there needs to be tests along the way, in a competitive environment, in front of judges, with a crowd, and other athletes who want to surpass you as badly as you do. One rep maxes (1RM) or PR WOD times in the gym do you no good if you cannot repeat them in front of referees. Nothing is official about your progress until it’s recorded by judges. Entering periodic competitions is the only true way to know who you are as an athlete, where you are in relation to other athletes, and what you need to work on to improve.
Jason Khalipa, on including Test Days into his 2013 training
“This year I focused on my weaknesses more and put myself in competitive settings as much as possible. You can train six hours a day, but if you’re going at 50% of your best effort, you’re only going to get so far. If you put yourself in competitive settings, where you’re truly pushing yourself to your limits, I think your body gets much more adaptation from that and I think that’s what I was able to do well this year.”
Athlete asks: How frequently should I compete coach?
Ideally, at the end of every cycle, or every other cycle. If you find you’re competing too often, lengthen your training cycle. If it is not often enough, shorten your program. In the end, no matter how hard you try, you cannot accurately create a competition setting unless you actually enter into one. To become a warrior athlete, you must be battle tested.
The road to the CrossFit Games is a long one for all competitors, regardless of their abilities. Training strategies must satisfy all the modalities within CrossFit, especially Olympic Weightlifting. That said the concepts above can be applied at all levels of athletic experience, whether gaming for a local competition or the big stage.