“How often do you miss an attempt in training?” I asked Tatiana Kashirina in preparation for a seminar with her and her coach Vladimir Krasnov.
“I don’t miss,” she replied.
I didn’t believe her, so I kept probing.
“Ok… when was the last time you missed an attempt in training?” She and her coach looked at each other. They couldn’t remember.
Nearly all serious weightlifters follow a program during training.
A program is a long-term training plan, usually written by a lifter’s coach. It typically spans a full training cycle or a phase within the training cycle and consists of precise, detailed plans for every training day. It could look something like this:
Muscle snatch 5(3)60%
Snatch pull 5(3)90%
Back Squat 5(4)75%
Each exercise should be done for a number of sets, each for a number of reps, at a specific working weight (written in kilograms or as a % of maximum). A lifter following this training plan would start each exercise at a lower weight to warm up, and would eventually get to the working weight for the assigned number of sets. Some coaches also write the exact warm-up weights and the sets the lifter should do.
Nearly all weightlifters use programs because they force them to do the exercises they don’t want to do and help plan the development of weaknesses and all-around progress. A well thought-out program addresses a lifter’s specific needs and pushes the lifter to their physical limit, forcing them to adapt and grow. If a lifter isn’t pushed close to their limit, they will not progress at the fastest rate. If the lifter is pushed beyond their limits, they will over-train or get injured.
So, how could a program be so precise that it got Tatiana to be the best in the world, but never pushed her to the point where she missed a single rep?
Coach Krasnov’s explanation was quite simple: We’re not machines that can be programmed. We are organisms. We change from day to day. We get sick. Sometimes we don’t get enough sleep. Our natural hormones change daily. Our moods change based on events in our lives.
When a lifter has a plan to lift 80% for 4 sets of 2 reps, the person who wrote the plan didn’t take into account exactly how the lifter feels, or how the warm-up weights were handled, or whether the lifter feels confident that they can lift the 80% with perfect technique on that particular day. Because we are not machines always ready for maximum effort, programming precisely for every set, rep and weight simply can’t be done. If a lifter adheres to a program to the tee, they will either not be pushed enough, miss lifts, overtrain or get injured.
Coach Krasnov writes a program for Tatiana for a week in advance, at most. The program includes the exercises she needs to perform with the number of sets and reps per exercise. The working weights are not included in the plan. A single training session may look like this:
Muscle snatch 4(3), 3(2)
Snatch 3(3), 2(2), 2(1)
Snatch pull 4(3), 3(2)
Back squat 5(5)
The complex exercises are written with multiple separate set(rep) next to them. This means that, for every complex exercise, Tatiana selects multiple working weights that she will perform for the given number of sets and reps.
Take the muscle snatch as an example:
Muscle snatch 4(3), 3(2)
After warming up, Tatiana works up to her first working weight, which is around 50-60% of her maximum. The focus of the first working weight sets is to:
- Perform every rep perfectly
- Fully warm up every muscle needed for the exercise
- Not getting fatigued from the 12 assigned reps
After Tatiana performs the 4 sets of 3 muscle snatches at this first working weight, she and her coach decide on the second working weight. Based on how Tatiana feels and what the coach sees, they select a weight that is near the heaviest Tatiana could lift (at this moment) with perfect technique for every rep of every set.
If during the first working weight Tatiana or her coach notice that something is out of place (for instance, the speed isn’t what it should be, or she feels sore or tired), they will select a lower working weight that they’re both confident she could lift with perfect technique for ever rep. If Tatiana or her coach feel that she shouldn’t continue with an exercise, she will either move on to the next exercise or end the training session completely. A few extra Kilos or reps are not worth injury, over-training or missing lifts.
After our seminar with Tatiana and Coach Krasnov, I wanted to try this style of programming on myself and my teammates. I was hesitant at first because I thought we wouldn’t push our limits if we didn’t have assigned heavy weights. It turns out, lifters who want to win will push themselves.
The results were better than expected. We had more reps devoted to technique. We were more warmed up for heavier weights. We still lifted heavy, but rarely missed. And rarely missing a lift is a great habit to have.
A plan should not be treated as dogma. A plan should be used as a guide that can be modified based on the reality of the day. Having a good coach or training partner who can help identify when and how the plan should be changed is essential.