As the new year approaches, this seems like the perfect time to write about the training cycle and how to plan for the year ahead. This post will be an introduction to the training cycle, setting the stage for a more in-depth discussion on programming in the future.
At the beginning of the new year, coaches meet with their lifters to analyze the previous year, to identify what can be improved, and plan the schedule for the upcoming year. They begin by selecting 4-5 competitions to compete in. These competitions are typically 3 months apart to allow for recovery from one competition and effective training for the next.
A national-level weightlifter will select 2 national-level and 2 local competitions for the year. Clear goals will be set for the national-level competitions, while the local competitions will be used to track progress.
Below is an outline of a training cycle that consists of 3 phases leading up to a competition. It’s important for lifters to understand the goals of each phase to know what to focus on and get the most out of each training session.
The training cycle begins with the Training-to-Train Phase.
The goal of this phase is to prepare the lifter for the work ahead, focusing on:
- Prehab to get the body ready for the daily battles of the following phases
- Mobility and flexibility to get into the correct positions of the classic lifts, squats, and supplementary exercises
- Rigidity to withstand the forces and not bend or break under heavy weights
- Endurance to complete the daily workload of the high-volume phase
The Training-to-Train phase is the phase of lowest intensity and the largest variety of exercises. Most lifters don’t do any classic lifts during this time. Instead, they do bodybuilding and bodyweight exercises, go jogging, do gymnastics, and Crossfit-type workouts. Crossfit, with a focus on mobility and good technique, is a great way to get into the athletic form required for the hard workouts of the Base Phase. Depending on what shape the lifter is in, the Training-to-Train phase may last between 1 to 4 weeks.
A typical day during the Training-to-Train Phase can look something like this:
- Full warm-up with a 5 minute jog
- Wall squats (4 sets of 8)
- Overhead Squat with 3 second pauses in 3 positions (5 sets of 3 @35%)
- 3 different ab exercises, 30 reps each
- 20 pull-ups
- Prehab work and stretching
The Base Phase is the phase during which the highest volume of weight is lifted.
The goal of this phase is to build strength and rigidity in all positions that are important for weightlifting. This is done by stressing the right muscles with a large volume of work.
At the beginning of the Base Phase, lifters perform a large variety of exercises directly targeting the many positions and movements of the snatch and clean and jerk. Strengthening weaknesses is very important at this time, as the amount an athlete can lift will be limited by their weaknesses. Incorporating variations of the snatch, clean, jerk, pulls, squats, presses and general physical preparation exercises are used to target the weak positions and movements.
More advanced lifters who don’t have noticeable weaknesses perform fewer variations, with most of the work centered around high-volume classic lifts, squats and pulls.
During the Base Phase, the weight used should vary from day to day, and from exercise to exercise, but it shouldn’t be so heavy that the lifter can’t complete the exercise with good technique.
A typical snatch day at the beginning of a Base Phase can look something like this:
- Muscle snatch to standing + Overhead Squat (5 sets of 3+2 @55%)
- Snatch from deficit (5 sets of 3 @75%)
- Snatch pull + hang snatch pull (5 sets of 2+3 @85%)
- Sitting snatch presses (5 sets of 6 @35%)
- Back raises (5 sets of 10)
- 20 minutes of GPP and stretching
As weaknesses are strengthened, fewer variations of the lifts are needed. The majority of the work becomes high-volume, classic lifts and strength training for the classic lifts. The ideal duration of the Base Phase is as long as the lifter continues getting stronger and can handle the high volume without over-training or getting injured. Typically this is between 5 to 12 weeks. After that, the Base Phase doesn’t abruptly end but transitions into the Competition Prep Phase.
The Competition Prep Phase
The Competition Prep Phase begins 3-5 weeks before a competition. At the beginning of this phase, most lifters perform sets of 2-3 snatches and clean and jerks around 85-90% (along with a few supplementary lifts). The volume is lower than it was in the Base Phase, while the intensity is higher.
A typical day at the beginning of a Competition Prep Phase:
- Snatch (3 sets of 2 @85%)
- Clean + jerk (3 sets of 1+2 @90%)
- Back squat (4 sets of 2 @90%)
- 10 minutes of GPP and stretching
As the Competition Prep Phase continues, the volume is reduced and the intensity increases. The goal of this phase is to sharpen and focus the strength developed in the Base Phase to be able to lift a single snatch and a single clean and jerk at 100% or higher on the day of competition.
After the competition, lifters take a break from training for 1-3 weeks to recover physically and psychologically from the competition and the months of training. When the lifter returns to training, they will work with their coach to identify weaknesses of the competition lifts and shortcomings of the previous training cycle, and plan for the following cycle.
It’s important to note that practically all professional weightlifters (even those who have a good understanding of the programming process) rely on coaches to write weekly training programs for them. Very few lifters can effectively write programs or coach themselves. When tired and stressed, it’s not feasible for most of us to make the right training decisions, especially when it comes to assigning exercises we don’t like.
If you don’t have a coach, find a good one you can trust with your weightlifting career.