Training Advice – 27 Feb 2021

For many of you training programs are still a bit of mystery, so here is some advice to help you get your mind around what should be your goals and intentions of your training at this present time.

As you are about to start week 3 of your present program, there is a long way to go for most of you until your next competition which will be on 15 May 2021 unless you are eligible to compete in the AWF Under 20 and Under 23 Championships on 19/20 March.

The length of wait until your next competition affords the opportunity to focus on development of your physical abilities. Most coaches would say “time for strength work” and this is indeed the intention of your training program for the next 4-5 weeks. Likely you have already discovered that extra training to improve your strength often comes at a cost of soreness and injury, and that making significant improvements is actually difficult. If an injury occurs, you will go backwards for a bit before you can go forwards again. You probably know the story. So therefore, it is important that as you train on ‘strength’ and ‘power’ over the next 4-5 weeks you must be mindful to stay in one piece!

In the training program most of you are presently following, you have already encountered some higher rep sets than is normal but intensity has been reduced. This higher volume of training will remain for a few weeks more, but you can expect some reduction as intensity begins to increase.

I have already been asked by one athlete if they can go heavier on squats because the prescribed percentage “is a bit light”. It is normal for Weightlifters to be preoccupied (or even fixated) by the weight on the bar but in the case of developing leg strength, it is important to undertake consistent volumes of training that promote muscle development without doing damage. ‘Having a go’ when you feel you have had a few good days off by going well over prescribed percentages may not be the best approach. Inconsistency in training approach leads to injury, and injury leads to inconsistency.

Therefore, the intention of the present program is to build you up slowly and carefully to withstand higher levels of loading (work) than you have previously experienced. In particular, building up on squats and pulls, and Power lifts is the key strategy. The reality of Weightlifting is that, if you are dreaming of some significant increases in say, the Clean & Jerk, you really must contemplate significant improvement in the Front Squat. So for the next few weeks, I would like you to skew your time and energy to squats and pulls, and if necessary drop back some volume on overhead lifts.

Athletes have a tendency to just ‘follow the program’, and repeatedly I have said that you need to re-think this.  Weightlifting requires a lot of brain power and this includes making decisions. Always in every session you need to think what can you sensibly achieve rather than just blindly follow the program. This statement may appear to conflict with what was said earlier about not overstepping the mark to avoid injury. Allowing athletes some measure of decision making is a necessary approach to coaching. Athletes who are highly motivated will inevitably sail close to the wind and from a coaching point of view, this is much more preferable that athletes who continually undershoot what they could achieve, or just do ‘what the program says’.

But, nonetheless, allowing athletes to make decisions is not providing a ticket to ‘go as heavy as you like’ whenever you feel inclined, but simply to regard the program as a bare minimum, an acceptable standard, or an amount of work that allows you to go home feeling you have done your bit.

Instead, within the training time that you have available, you must learn to keep asking yourself one question as you approach the end of each and every exercise:

“Should I do another set and, if so, what weight?

As you complete prescribed exercises, don’t just stop and say I have done “what the program says” and go on to the next exercise. This training behaviour will just mean that you will be an average athlete, because there will always be an echelon of athletes that will happily do more.

When you are making the decision on whether you should do another set, you will of course be incumbered by time available. If you are maximising your time available, then it is perfectly understandable that you can do no more. But when your training session is not as much constrained by time, you must consider whether you should do a few more sets, and at what weight.

There is often a good reason for the athlete to do several drop down sets, if the top sets were hard and untidy. The drop down sets will help you in the long run to improve technique and movement fluency. Similarly, if your prescribed top sets were very comfortable, then why do you not add a small amount (1-2%) each set and do some additional sets? Over time, this capacity to go beyond what the program says is really quite crucial. It will amount to 10% more training volume, but crucially, it takes place at a training intensity that could create the significant change you are seeking.

Ultimately, if you want to improve, its about you making decisions and finding ways to incrementally increase your training load. But dont get caught in a constant battle to push singles. Instead monitor your training, workout your total reps and tonnes per exercise, and find out what your average weight was for each exercise you perform. Then seek to push the average up by small degree but on a frequent basis. You can do this even when you are not on form. You can push your average up by just doing an extra set or two, and not necessarily at your top weight. You could also consider increasing the weight of the last two sets by a kilo. Even if you can get your average weight up by 0.1Kg, you are moving in the direction. However dont cheat by skipping warm ups. Keep a consistent pattern on how you warm up with normal increments.

That’s it for now but expect more coaching thoughts in the near future. I want to see you learn how to go forward.