Started from the Bottom. A Year in Weightlifting…

Everyone bombs. In this blog article I will go through a year of training and competitions for one of the more talented girls that I coach. Going from bombing out in record time at the Scottish Seniors in 2015 to the winning the British U23s with a clutch Clean and Jerk on the final lift.

Scottish Seniors 2015

this-is-fine-memeLeading up to the Scottish seniors the training had been pretty standard with a 2 week taper and hitting every opener on the Saturday session going 5/5 Snatch and 3/3 in the Clean and Jerk and opening at her PR double or ~90%. Consistent errors were jumping forward on the Snatch, the bar was drifting away from the center line and an aggressive early extension of the hip.  At the seniors Zoë bombed on the snatch. Some of the lessons learned from this competition were to lower the energy level for the snatch, (2 scoops and shouting is simply not needed. A lot of lifters go through this phase, it doesn’t really help and bleeds you of so much energy come lifting time.) better clock management and it was time to start addressing technical issues if she wanted to progress. The great thing about competing is that it forces you to lift under a microscope. Once the pressure is on, it is more likely you try to muscle the barbell and abandon everything.

Looking at the video you can see most of the problems listed above in action. She was still pretty new to lifting so mistakes were to be expected. The bar drifts around the knee, the vertical speed decreases above the hip (a common problem with an early extension of the hip. This is due to you losing drive from the legs) and an excessive horizontal force is being introduced to the barbell. Bad day at the office for sure.

Training post Seniors

This was the last competition that Zoë lifted as a 63kg/light 69kg, I maintain the goal is being a jacked 120kg with no neck but for now @Shovelhands_69kgs lives in the 69kg class. The next competition she was going to compete in was the BUCS (British University and Colleges Sport) Championships and a lot needed to be worked on before then.

  • Strength
  • Improve speed qualities as a lifter
  • Improve technical mastery

Between the Seniors and BUCS there were 4 months + change to improve these aspects. Using a 3:1 (3 weeks active // 1 Week deload/rest) rotation; her training was broken up into 4 blocks. Hypertrophy / General Strength / Specific Strength / Peak.

During the Hypertrophy block the aim is to add muscle mass. Training involves a wide exercise selection and larger repetition schemes. It is the horrible period of training where you go to the squat rack hating life. It can be harder to motivate the athlete in this phase, the classical lifts might decrease due to the high volume of strength work. Some athletes panic and quickly change program. Motivation is maintained through the exercise selection and the ability to get “default PRs” on random stuff.

zoe-hypertrophy-blockIntensity for exercises was in the 60-70% range with an accumulation of intensity over time. (A total increase of about 7% in intensity from week 1 to week 3). The third week was a hard overreach microcycle. A days training (over 2 sessions) would look similar to:

The exercise selection has her technical flaws in mind and over the 3 week period the stimulus is constantly increasing. I started incorporating the option to do more work if lifters had the energy (before it was implied). The green boxes are there so the lifter has the option to do more work if they feel the energy level is still high. (Technical failure is not acceptable.) Whenever people get to make choices they tend to be more accepting of an outcome. I found this to be a useful change throughout my programming. A potential problem could occur here if an athlete does so much work that the risk of injury increases. For now this risk is acceptable if this moves the lifter closer to her/his maximum recoverable volume.

During the general strength block the main goal is to improve the force production capabilities whilst addressing the individual lifters’ weaker areas. For female lifters it is common to have a weaker upper body compared to male athletes. For Zoë; she has a longer femur compared to total leg length so positional strength when the lever arm is at it’s longest is a concern. (Other sessions included pause squats, stalling lifts or lifts from challenging block heights. A days training (over 2 sessions) looked something like:zoe-str-block

The intensity in this block was within the 70-80% range and increased roughly 6-7% comparing the first and third week.

The sport specific strength block is similar in intensity to the previous but the exercise election is reduced and a greater focus is placed on technical outcomes. This is when technical adjustments are a major factor in performance. You should have an increase in horse power to work with and need to start putting it to use. Video sessions were a greater priority in this block, important for the lifter to get immediate feedback. An average training day looked something like:


The intensity in this block was within the 70-85% range and increased roughly 5-10% over the 3 weeks. Snatch variants went slightly higher.
The peaking blocks goal is an increase in competition performance. The volume of the lifts were low and the intensity building towards 90%. Deadlift variations are often removed at this point. An average training days would look something like:zoe-peak

A week before the competition there was a large drop in volume to prepare the lifter for weigh-in, travel and competition.

BUCS Championship

Competition preparation went well, openers were stable. Going into the meet Zoë was working on warming up quicker (to preserve energy) and lifting at a lower arousal level (having been a problem during the seniors). This competition went very well. Going 5/6 and winning the 69kg class.

There were technical improvements across the board and lifted well under pressure. Overall pretty happy with the result of the competition with a result of +17kg in 4 months of training. This is somewhat skewed since the bomb out at the Seniors.

Training Leading up to the Easterns and British U23s

The training followed the same phasic structure with alterations based off of experience working with Zoe. Some minor injuries and holidays slowed down progress. This is to be expected and must be taken into account with program design / workout volume. The summer training was largely uninterrupted only missing about 1 month in total. As mastery level increases speed factors become a more important part of weightlifting. Block work is one of the ways to improve speed under the bar and maintain high volume, this started to take up a larger section of her programming. Accessory work and hypertrophy was important to filling her out as a 69kg lifter.

Easterns and British U23s

Going into the the Eastern districts a two week taper was used and the openers went fairly well, although some sad news had an impact on the energy levels in training.

For some reason I have a nasty habit of not filming the first lift. Zoë went 5/6 and had an increase in competition total of +4kg. On the whole I was satisfied with the competition. The clean and jerk being the weaker of the two lifts. Errors include; the bar crashing down when transitioning under the barbell and the Jerk getting pushed forward a little.

The British U23 Championships followed in three weeks time so there was not much that could be done training wise. Openers were redone and front squats were used to stall out any decline in leg strength / minimize the injury risk of a high average intensity for such a long period of time.

The competition was neck and neck all the way in the British, the stage made for an intimidating experience for a first time lifter. Kudos to British Weightlifting for making the stage similar to international venues. The MC putting the hype levels over 9000.

Zoë was opening the highest on the snatch so she had an opportunity to set the pace of the competition and only lift what she needed to. Going out for her first lift her hands were visibly shaking when going to grip the bar. Deciding to abandon everything she worked on over the past couple of months she did her own thing. It did not go well. An early hip extension and a large horizontal force on the barbell caused it to loop behind. In this situation with a more experienced lifter I would have moved the bar to 71kg. In her current state it would be a dangerous gamble to take. Missing the second lift would put her under enormous pressure and could lead to a bomb out. The lift was repeated and was an easy make. Explaining that a larger jump was needed on her third snatch to remain competitive. I wanted to move the bar to 72kg framing it with carrot of winning, she countered with 73kg (1kg less than the Eastern districts but still a 5kg jump in the snatch which can be a lot for female lifters). The third snatch was spot on and put her 3kg behind going into the Clean and Jerk.

The clean and jerk warm up was a little more jumbled with quite a few misses of other athletes forcing the clock to run long. This meant the timings had to be slowed down and some pulls used to stay warm and conserve energy. To keep her mind off of proceedings I didn’t pay that much attention to her lifting so she wouldn’t be stressing out. After every lift she was asking “what happened / was it good?” Quite funny considering how much lifting she has done. Knowing that she was 3kg behind on the snatch yet the lightest of the girls I wanted to move the bar to 84kg to take first place and force other lifters to “make lifts”. Zoë panicked a little and didn’t want to move the barbell past 83kg. (I cri errytime) This meant the first lift was somewhat of a waste, only securing second (although it meant we used none of our changes). After making the first Clean and Jerk we moved the bar 1kg over the other lifters (to 86kg) to see how they would do. The girl in first place missed her second clean and the lifter in third place moved up into second having made 85kg. Zoë had the chance to move into a large lead with one lift remaining by making the second clean and jerk. She missed. Explaining to her that we want to take the chance to win it on the last lift regardless of the others I moved the bar to 88kg (1kg above the others, knowing that the lifter in second was out of changes). They both missed their last lifts of 87/88 (meaning Zoë would have won with 86kg). She had the opportunity to win it on the final lift, so hype. Luckily she made the lift, (I was feeling the heart flutters) it was an exciting competition performance and luckily it went our way on the day. That made sense to me but no doubt read horribly.

TLDR : Knees weak, arms heavy, mom’s spaghetti. #Anothaone

Going forward,hopefully she learns from the competition. I know I will be altering some parts of training. For example: openers being a higher intensity wave series so people getting less fixated on a number. It was a great return on a years training and I look forward to competition season being over. Next year the goals are to compete at the British and move her total up in the region of 175-180.

Initial total 53/72=125

Final total 73/88= 161

Improvement over 1 year = 36kg.

With training; staying the course and waiting on your body adapting is very difficult. You think micro adjustments are required after one bad session, as long as the work is getting more difficult over time and you are improving your technical mastery you will have a good time. Put your trust in delayed transformation.

Regarding the blog: I find writing super taxing (I am the sort of writer that goes back to the start and constantly frets) but will be trying to write on a more consistent basis, even if it is just to work on finding more dank memes.


My Chinese Weightlifting Experience – Intro, Programming and Theory

Notes for this series:

Hoping to put down some information in case any people would be interested in what I experienced and learned on my Weightlifting training camp to China. I stayed at BSU, one of many “factories” that produce top class weightlifters (Zhang Guozheng was one of the more famous lifters out ofBSU.) I was training under Coach Ma (From theLindenwood lions website):

Coach Ma

Coach Ma

“Ma was a member of the Chinese National Team from 1978 to 1988 and represented his country at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.  He also won a silver medal and two bronze medals while competing in four World Championships and World Cups. Since competing, Ma has been a coach at a variety of levels for over 23 years, beginning as a Provincial and national Level Coach certified in China.  More recently, he was the head coach of the Seychelles (Africa) National Team and the USA World University National Team from 2003 to 2007.  Ma received an undergraduate degree from Anhui University in China in 1989 and received his master’s degree in exercise science from Xi’an Sports University in China in 2007.”

He was an engaging individual, with a tremendous amount of energy.  He was trying his absolute to ensure everyone learned as much as possible. I am grateful for all his help on the trip.

I have a lot of notes from my trip to China (so will put out a couple of blog posts to try to sort my thoughts, might be a little scattered as there were so many lectures and things to learn so it’s hard to put it down in a well thought out pattern.

Professional Level Programming

I appreciated the honesty of the coaches when it came to how the system was developed. They stole from America in the 50s, Russia in the 70s and Bulgaria in the 80s from there they evolved their own unique style, which they view as the best. They have 10 exercises that they class as “technique” lifts and 10 exercises for “strength”.

Technique exercises included; Hang/Power + Snatch, Hang/Power + Clean, Jerk from the rack, jerk recovery, drop snatch and power jerk.

Strength exercises included; Front/Back Squat, Clean/Snatch Pull, Clean/Snatch DL, Jerk Dip, Half squat, strict press and push press.

These exercises were supposed to fall into certain ratios for the athlete to make sure that he is not lacking in some area that is costing him potential weight on the bar, for example if your military press is 70kg and you jerk 160, odds are your legs are far stronger than your arms and you need to address that weakness.

  • Military Press -> Jerk should be -70kg
  • Push Press -> Jerk should be -35-40kg
  • Power Jerk -> Jerk should be -20kg
  • Rack jerk -> Jerk should be +5kg
  • Front Squat -> Jerk should be +30kg
  • Back Squat -> CNJ should be +50kg
  • Power Clean = Snatch is power clean is greater, strength is higher than technique.

As you would expect life gets hard fast for the budding Chinese weightlifter, it is expected that athletes turn professional at 16. The average workload is about 12 sessions per week. Mon/Wed/Friday [Tues/Thur/Sat]x2 and some morning exercises on some days that incorporate stretching techniques and small muscle training, there isn’t a stone left unturned for a lot of these athletes. Not an ounce of fat is to be found, they also train in high heat without air conditioning to help with flexibility and weight loss (little brosciencey). Any number of bodybuilding exercises are also included in the program, they do not count to the weekly volume for calculations. On average it takes 8-10 years to produce a male Olympic Champion and 5-8 years to produce a female Olympic Champion.

BSU Weightlifting Gym

BSU Weightlifting Gym

In the beginner stage they spend about 60/40 split between technique and strength exercises, intermediate stage they spend about 50/50 between the exercises whilst the advanced lifters lift 40/60. As the sport mastery increases, less time is spent doing the full lifts and more time is spent getting stronger. To them, beginner level is pretty much every Athlete until the start winning National competitions.

The key value in training is intensity, as much time as possible is spent doing as heavy weights as technique allows. By this age, the technique should be second nature and entirely feed forward. The athletes tend to max out on Friday (Big Friday is the Weightlifter equivalent to Chest Mondays). Weights up to 80% are not counted towards weekly volume. The lighter weight classes are expected to do more work than the heavier classes. The limiting factor being the connective tissue of the bigger athletes. They termed them as fragile.

When it comes to program design, the first questions the coach asks are

  • What is the purpose of this cycle
  • What is the target
  • What is the time frame required

Every day tends to have a focus, unlike some designs that does both the classic lifts. So one day might be Power clean + push press, clean fast pull and clean deadlift. This way the athlete should be able to refine the motor pattern more effectively, this is particularly useful for athletes whose technique is sub par. The coaches are there to make sure the accessory lifts are approached in the same way as the lifts, people ducking out of pulls / squats are weeded out.

The programs also include a lot of conditioning, commonplace for the athletes to have long distance runs + sprints in the morning all throughout career. As the athlete nears retirement, the program adapts to suit them. The example used was that Lu Xiaojun has recently become a father and so his training has completely changed. Something like basketball or football is played once a week as a change of stimulus. Every athlete is expected to manage their own program in order to increase its effectiveness. No coach can know an athlete better than himself. The yearly intensity is set to peak around 2/3 competitions a year. They favour the Olympics and Asian games above all else. The World Championships are low on the priorities (despite the strong showing this year).

National Level Athletes

For the top dogs no expense is spared. They are training at the largest and best equipped Weightlifting gym in the world (The NTC). It is jaw dropping in person, with a session in full flow the energy of the building is palpable. Coach Yu Jie mentioned that coaches are viewed as remote controllers and the athletes are National treasures. Anything that would improve the athlete he/she gets. All athletes have their own massage therapist and sports psychology coach (who stays with the athletes to get to know them better). They live on site and have access to a Cyro room, swimming pool, sauna and ice baths. Recovery was something that is drilled into the athletes from the ground up, by this point it is second nature.

The step up in class to the National level is very evident even during simple things like the group warm ups. Compared to the Professional athletes at BSU they are leaner and a lot more flexible. At this point the little things matter an awful lot more. I was gobsmacked when Liao Hui dropped into a pancake stretch with his chest on the ground whilst texting just after walking into the Asian games trials. (He proceeded to lift 165/200, opening on 200kg. Real time lift starts at 1:20).

The psychology differences between the genders was quite evident as well. The men missing a lot more lifts than the females and also joking when missing / recovering a jerk, shouting “light weight”, “my shitty technique” or “easy”.

Youth Coaching and Recruitment.

Athlete identification is the number one priority for the Chinese weightlifting system. With a nation as large as China if they get that right it seems to be half the battle. To get an idea of the wealth of resources available every district in Beijing (16 districts) has at least 1 professional team, each team contains 20 males and 20 females who are full-time weightlifters.

Kids are compared against the usual metrics that determines their potential: vertical, broad jump, motor control in other sports and sprint speed. Coach Ma also made the comment that recruiters look for woman with mustaches and children with bigger balls which raised a few laughs. It was mentioned however that times have moved on and they test the young athletes’ hormone levels now.

Coach Yu Jie (Liao/Lu’s coach) mentioned that above all the athlete’s attitude was the determining factor.  A common practise is to make the youngsters run 2k races to see which athletes start to flag and give up and which ones keep driving on. When you have the kid with the right genetic makeup and the right attitude, you have yourself a future star. More and more they are looking to country boys, since city life is too comfortable to breed champions. A sentiment echoed by the demise of American boxing. Lu Xiaojun is a farmer for instance.

A coach who specifically works with young athletes hosted a QNA and in it he mentioned how important it was to learn the technique early on and staying away from pushing strength too fast. It is viewed as the final piece of the puzzle. Most work is done with sub 60%. (As an older athlete however this would change in priority, risks must be taken). If the athlete learns in the formative years (10-14) it is expected to have great technique in 3 months. (This made me a little sad inside). There have been a few examples of athletes learning later, they usually come from other sports like gymnastics.

This coach also mentioned how important it is to encourage and motivate the younger athletes until they develop that internal drive. Constantly using examples of famous weightlifters who have been in the same place that they were facing the same struggles.

The 10-14yr old athletes train for 6 days a week for 3 hours a day it is expected to take 2 months to adapt to this lifestyle. Whilst the athlete trains at the facility, he is cared for by the state, the family is allowed to send a little extra money if they have it to spare.

For youth level competitions, it is more important to make lifts than the weight on the bar. 6/6 is very encouraging for junior athletes, this leads to a culture of success.

Male and Female Differences

For the male athletes, a higher training intensity is required for progress. They tend to have short rests in between sets and more training sessions. Some personality encourage a daily max. It was described as men being “easily excited” and “quick to fatigue”, whereas woman take longer to get going. Program design is a little more fluid than some other nations. More focus is placed on feeling the weight rather than number crunching. The typical cycle is modelled around 2 weeks at a high intensity and then 3-4 days at a lighter intensity for recovery.

Female athletes tend to operate at a marked higher volume and taking longer rests in between sets. They operate at a working intensity for longer but require a longer recovery period. Typically 3 weeks at high intensity and then 1 week to 10 days on a recovery block. Higher level female athletes also tend to handle one long training session better than the men so program design reflects this.

Mentally men are less susceptible to misses compared to woman, they believe that woman need to build a lot more confidence in the lifts. Compared to the men the woman do more bar work at the end of sessions.

Men tend to focus more on absolute strength at the higher levels, woman spend more time on technique and speed strength. Also the female athlete tends to have stronger legs in proportion to the rest of their body so they need to spend an awful lot of time on bodybuilding work. Paying particular attention to overhead strength. Recovery blocks for both genders tend to be in the 70-80% range and be much shorter sessions.

We were given samples of training programs from both the BSU team and from National level athletes. I don’t think it is really applicable to write a program on a website when you have no idea where you fit into the system. Everything is highly particular to that athlete. Also this is just my short insight into the Chinese model. It is something that I intend to go back to once my Mandarin improves.

*I will probably edit this at some point, just wanted to clear some notes out*

Training Week 24/3/2014 – Drills in the warm up to improve full lifts

This is the training video for the week of 24/3/14. Decent enough week for the University guys. For the people competing at BUCS it’s the last week of a Preparation Cycle before they begin to taper. Peoples’ energy levels are down so Taps Aff training was needed for some. (It’s anabolic).

Notable PRs :

Ian 92.5kg Snatch // 160kg Front Squat – Beginning transformation to legit Freak Beast. Suck it Darwin.

Jordan: 127.5kg Clean PR (no Jerk)

Alejandro : 100kg Clean and money jerk

Nat: 90kg Back Squat

Dave : 205kg Front Squat

Drills help to enforce good habits before moving up to heavier weights. Below is an example of someone with a technical/motor control error and a simple drill to reinforce good behaviour before moving up to 90-100% on the snatch.

The Microphone hasn’t been used since my days of online gaming so no amount of Audacity saved the Audio I’m afraid.

It’s between the Coach and the athlete to find a cue/drill that works in each situation. There is no “one size fits all”.