In Bob Takano’s recent newsletter mailing he has a piece about the fact that he’s been seeing a lot of WOD (workout of the day) designed for weightlifters. He’s worried that the structure of these are often not going to get weightlifters where they want to go, that is, it ain’t specific enough to the weightlifter.
I’ve been seeing a lot of WOD’s (Workout of the Day) showing up on the internet and they are intended for weightlifters. They usually have one standard weightlifting movement (snatch, clean & jerk, pull, squat), and then some other bodybuilding exercises or other movements that are not especially beneficial to serious weightlifters.
After many years of designing training, one of my rules of thumb is to include one pulling exercise, one squatting exercise and one overhead movement in every workout. I know this can be bothersome to those who like to break up training into body parts or movement categories and concentrate on only one per session.
I believe there is enough empirical evidence to support the idea of training all three major aspects of weightlifting competition everyday, although not all to exactly the same degree. The load, volume and intensity can be varied in each case to provide sufficient variation.
I think that is good advice. When I started out, I fell prey to the same problems. If you hunt for them, you can find old WOD of my own that suffered similarly. Until I’d been in the trenches for a few years, and coached enough weightlifters, I didn’t realize some fundamental differences that exist in training the weightlifter vs training everyone else (I expound on these below).
Over the years, I’ve been moving closer toward the Bulgarian side of the fence than I did when I started. Nowadays, for most of the year, my athletes do some form of the snatch AND some form of the clean+jerk (usually the full classic lifts themselves) in every workout then get to the pulls and squats (nearly always front squats). They squat no less then 3 times a week, sometimes more – and heavy.
That said, I do like to include some upper body “bodybuilding” work in. There is ample evidence that many shoulder, elbow, and wrist injuries can be avoided if proper attention is paid to exercises like chin ups. But if your training routine consists of more than 10% to maybe 20% upper body work, you’re not a weightlifter.
The Big Picture
Weightlifters have a problem. They don’t need to be comprehensively athletic, and so most aren’t. Sure, there’s a sizable minority of lifters who are good all around athletes. But, only in a strength sport do you have a super-heavyweight class. Even NFL lineman are more generally athletic than most supers. And just because someone is lean, does not mean they have good endurance.
By “generally athletic” I mean covering all the basics of good fitness: flexibility and mobility; strength; power; speed; core stability; lateral stability; single-leg stability; cardiovascular endurance; muscular endurance; etc. These are the qualities a strength coach is trying to build into the majority of athletes.
Most sports require some element of every type of fitness. This is true in baseball, football, tennis, swimming, volleyball, soccer, rugby, roller derby, even dodge ball. But, not weightlifting.
Weightlifters are great at strength, excellent at power, right up there in flexibility and mobility. But, they are grossly behind in both types of endurance – especially muscular endurance. (You should see me trying to go on a hike!) They are also often deficient in lateral and single-leg stability (not horrible, but not as good as they could be - the new squat style jerk takes that last remaining split leg movement out of the sport, and makes it totally bilateral).
The reason for this imbalance is that weightlifters are more like marathon runners than they’d like to admit. Weightlifters are in an extreme sport. No, not extreme as in dangerous, extreme as in overly specialized. We move very heavy weights, very fast, from down to up, in a fraction of a second. We require as much endurance as marathon runners require strength. Oh, sure, of course there is SOME need for it. We don’t want to literally drop dead. But, compared to other athletes, we suck at it.
We also have relatively wimpy arms. Relative to other strength athletes of course. Powerlifters, strongmen, track and field throwers, highland games athletes – they all have bigger and stronger arms than most of us. They’re chests and shoulders and lats are usually bigger too. Why? Specialization.
Oly lifters are 80% legs, 20% traps. OK, that’s an over exaggeration – but not much of one.
I’m not saying this to disparage we weightlifters, but to make a point. You WANT a weightlifter to be this way. You need them focused on the task at hand. They are in an extreme sport that requires extreme training (again, I mean extreme as in highly focused, not dangerous). They need constant work on the classic lifts themselves, stupid amounts of squatting, some pulling, and if you can fit it in, some upper body work to keep their joints healthy.
A Slight Regression
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I do want to mention that during the summer – which for us starts after tomorrows State championships – I intentionally dump all of the above advice. I spend a few months training my athletes like athletes rather than like weightlifters. This has a nice psychological effect, as well as a physiological one. It is hard on your body and your psyche to hammer away for months at a time on low rep Oly lifts and front squats – over and over and over and over … ad nauseum.
During the summer we get to do all the fun stuff we normally don’t, like single-leg work and higher reps; we add in more rows, pressing, etc. It’s good ole’ fashioned training that any athlete would thrive on. But, after a bit of that, we get back on the horse.
Weightlifting is a means to an end for other athletes. It IS the end for us. The training should reflect that.
[by the way, if you haven’t already, make sure you sign up for Bob’s email newsletter. It’s the best Oly-lifting focused newsletter around, hands down. Just click here.]