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Weightlifting Competition Coaching for the Novice Coach

You’re an S&C coach - you primarily serve as support staff to the sport coach, where your ultimate goal is to physically prepare your athletes for their respective sports.  As a result, opportunities to be in a competition setting, where performance is squarely on your shoulders, may be few and far between.

Great news, I have an opportunity for you strength coaches to put on the short-shorts and tube socks of the sport coach, and place yourself in a position where an athlete’s performance is squarely on your shoulders: a weightlifting meet.  It will test and challenge your ability to map out a competition game plan. It will also test your ability to think on the fly and make adjustments at a moments notice, adjustments that will affect performance, not just physical preparedness.

I can still remember my first competition coaching experience – I was probably more anxious than my own athlete!  I had shadowed great coaches like Power Athlete Radio Alum Sean Waxman plenty of times and prepared my ass off, but the nerves of having the sole coaching responsibility of an athlete in a competition setting was absolutely nerve racking!

While it may look easy, there are lots of ins and outs that go into managing the competition process for your athlete, and your first coaching experience at a meet can be highly stressful and surprisingly exhausting.  And, not really knowing what’s going on nor what to do will only compound those feelings; the worst thing you can do as a coach is crawl up your own ass and let those feelings spill over onto your athletes.

With that in mind, the goal of this article is to put you in a position to succeed.  I’ll outline the overall competition process for you, and provide you the tools you’ll need lead you and your athletes to a great performance in any weightlifting meet!

TO ASSUME IS TO MAKE AN ASS OUT OF YOU AND ME

I don’t want to assume anything here, so I’ll start with the absolute basics of a weightlifting meet.

Every lifter will have three attempts in both the snatch and clean & jerk to lift their maximal amount of weight.  The initial lifting order is figured out based on the declaration of opening attempts made at the time of weigh-ins, 2 hours prior to the beginning of the session, and the weight on the barbell will always start with the lowest attempt weight and progress upwards from there.

If there are multiple lifters that have declared the same weight, they’ll all attempt it before the weight is increased to the next highest weight. The order of lifters in a scenario like that is determined first by the lowest attempt number (i.e. first attempts go before second or third attempts, and second attempts go before thirds), and second by lot number (lot numbers are randomly given and can be found on the attempt cards)– lowest lot number goes first.

After each attempt your athlete takes, you will need to declare the next attempt at the scores table.  You can make up to two changes to the attempt weights you declare.

When your athlete is called to take their attempt, they will have 1 minute to go out on the platform and lift.  If your athlete is in a position where they have to follow themselves on an attempt, they will only have 2 minutes to rest and take their next attempt.

Ok, so now we know what to expect in terms of what’s supposed to happen. But, how do we structure our game plan?  Similar to designing a training program, we start with the end goal, and reverse engineer our way backwards to the starting point.

HOW TO SELECT ATTEMPTS

“Snatch what you can, clean & jerk what you must!” -Dave Spitz, Cal Strength

If you’re working with a newer athlete, especially if it’s their first weightlifting meet, the goal should not necessarily go for broke and hit all time PR’s.  It should be about making lifts, and making sure the athlete comes away with a positive experience. I always stress with my athletes, whether beginner, intermediate, or advanced, that when you make lifts, great things will happen!

It’s important that the opener is not a maximal attempt.  It should be a weight that is challenging but manageable – something that can build confidence in the athlete as they progress into their 2nd and 3rd attempts.  It’s not about where you start, it’s where you finish! When chatting with Dave Spitz in more detail about his quote above, he stressed the importance that the snatch is not where you push - it’s where you set yourself up for big things to come in the clean & jerk.

A good rule of thumb is to open up at around 92-94% of the athlete’s current best snatch and clean & jerk.  For example, if your athlete’s best snatch is 100kg, you should have them open somewhere around 92-94kg.

If your athlete doesn’t really have a 1-rep max in the lifts, then I would suggest you have them open up at or around what they have made for a double, or maybe even a triple, consistently in training. Make sure you communicate this with your athlete, and they know what this opening number is - they’ll need to “declare” their opening attempts at the time of weigh-ins in order to establish the initial order of lifting.

After your athlete takes their first attempt, you’ll have to declare a weight that is at least 1kg more than the previous attempt, so assuming they make their opening attempt, plan to take jumps between 3-5%.  For less experienced athletes, I’m a big fan of taking 2-3kg jumps in the snatch - snatch what you can- and bigger 3-5kg jumps in the clean & jerk - clean & jerk what you must. The smaller weight classes will typically be on the lower end of this spectrum, while the bigger weight classes will be on the higher end.

If your athlete misses an attempt, my recommendation would be to have them repeat the same weight.  If the next declared attempt is higher, then your athlete will have 2 minutes to come back out onto the platform to attempt the weight again.

HOW TO STRUCTURE WARM UPS

After establishing what your attempts on the platform will be, you’ll need to structure what the warm up attempts will be.  Ultimately, you’ll want to warm up with the same weights that your athlete is familiar with doing, if they were to work up to a single in the gym.  Let’s assume your athlete’s opening snatch is planned for 100kg. Here’s what a typical warm up progression would look like:

General Bar Warm Up

Bar - 3 Reps

40kg - 3 Reps

50kg - 3 Reps

60kg - 2 Reps

70kg - 1 Reps

80kg – 1 Rep

90kg – 1 Rep

95kg – 1 Rep

_______________

100kg – 1st Attempt

104kg – 2nd Attempt

107kg – 3rd Attempt

Specifically for the snatch, it’s important that you spend a little more time with the bar and the lighter attempts, as a way to get your CNS moving and grooving a little bit more.  You won’t need to do this necessarily in the clean & jerk since you’ll already be warmed up.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

“If you can’t do math in your head, put your plan on paper, have a timer, maybe bring a calculator.” Sean Waxman, Waxman’s Gym

Now that you have the warm-ups organized, structuring the timing of when your athlete takes those warm-ups is next.  Ideally, the athlete should be taking a warm-up every 3 competition lifts, which equates to about 2-4 minutes of rest between each warm-up.  With this in mind, I want to have my athlete finish their last warm up with 3 competition lifts still to go before they take their opening attempt.  If you’re a Rain Man and are great at numbers in your head, you’re better than most, but as Sean Waxman explained above, it’s probably best to put your plan on paper, to help take some of the thinking out of it for you.  No need to make a difficult thing more complicated than it has to be. From there, I reverse engineer the timing of the attempts to look something like this:

General Bar Warm Up – 28 Attempts Out

Bar – 24 Attempts Out

40kg – 21 Attempts Out

50kg – 18 Attempts Out

60kg – 15 Attempts Out

70kg – 12 Attempts Out

80kg – 9 Attempts Out

90kg – 6 Attempts Out

95kg – 3 Attempts Out

_______________

100kg – 1st Attempt

104kg – 2nd Attempt

107kg – 3rd Attempt

Figuring everything out up to this point is the easy part – now onto the hard part: getting the count right and making sure you start warming your athlete up at the right time once the competition begins!

HOW TO COUNT

“Learn how to count warm up attempts properly depending on the starting point of the lifter.” - Mike Burgener, Mike’s Gym

Here’s a shot of what the initial cards will look like on the scorers table:

There are 12 athlete's competing in this session.  Their opening snatches range from 85kg-110kg.  Your athlete is Todd B., his lot number is 4 and is opening up at 100kg in the snatch.  The first thing to do is to establish an initial count of how many attempts there are before your opener.  This is what Coach B is talking about with regards to counting warm up attempts, based on the starting point of the lifter.  At best, this is a very rough estimate, because when things get rolling, you don’t really know the increases other athletes will make from attempt to attempt, or how many athletes will miss, which can slow the pace of the meet down or effect the count.  With that being said, here are some assumptions that I make: women typically take 2-3kg increases, while men take 3-5kg increases from attempt to attempt.

The cards will start with the lowest opener on the bottom left at 85kg and will go up in order from there (When looking at these cards, you start at the bottom of each column and go up). Based on all of the assumptions above, my initial count is 16. In other words, there will be 16 attempts on the competition platform before my athlete takes his first attempt at 100kg when session starts.

So, if you go back up to our warm-up game plan, you can see that my athlete will have to be prepared to take 60kg after the first attempt of the meet has been completed.  What does that mean? You’ll need to start the warm up before the session begins. This is a common occurrence, so you must plan accordingly.

When I’m in a scenario like this, I like to space attempts out every 3-4 minutes. That means I need to get my athlete to start their barbell warm-up roughly 12-15 minutes before the session begins, so by the time the first attempt on the competition platform has been taken, my athlete is ready to take 60kg.  Make sure you have a watch or timer on you to keep track of time!

Once you've finished with the snatch portion of the meet, there will typically be a 10 minute break from the time the last snatch on the platform has been completed to the time the first clean & jerk is taken on the platform.  Once your athlete has finished all 3 of their snatch attempts, you need to rinse and repeat the process outlined above for the clean & jerk portion of the competition.

WRAPPING IT ALL UP

“Have a plan for your outcome, but understand that competition will present moments where you have to make quick micro adjustments along the way.” Dave Spitz, Cal Strength

Having a plan going into a meet is very important, but what’s more important is being flexible with your plan.  As Dave referenced, and I can attest, a million different things can go wrong in a meet to get you off your plan; your job is to do everything you can to ensure your athlete performs well, so you must be flexible and be empowered to make small or big adjustments along the way.  At the end of the day, use your best judgement.

Getting your feet wet in a weightlifting meet is a great growth opportunity as a coach, to test and improve your ability to think on the fly and make adjustments at a moments notice.  Because of this, I encourage all coaches to experience coaching in a weightlifting meet at least once in their career. Don’t be nervous about making mistakes, because you’ll make them, trust me – just don’t tell anyone!

Put your athletes to the test.  Put yourself to the test. Sign up to coach and compete in a meet.  Oh, and don’t forget - make sure to tag us so we can share in your success!

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Don Ricci, CSCS

Block One Coach at Power Athlete
Don was a two time National Champion and All-American water polo goalie at the University of Southern California prior to getting involved in coaching strength & conditioning and weightlifting.As the owner and Head Coach of DELTA Weightlifting in Sacramento, CA, the Power Athlete Methodology has been a crucial component in developing better overall athleticism with his competitive weightlifters with international level athletes and national medalists to show for it.In addition to proudly being a Power Athlete Block One Coach, Don is also a USA Weightlifting Level 4 International Coach, a USA Weightlifting Lead Instructor for the Level 1 & 2 Coaching Certification Courses, and a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA).Don has coached and trained athletes from virtually every sport at levels ranging from youth beginner to National Team level.

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2 Responses to Weightlifting Competition Coaching for the Novice Coach

  1. Pingback: Competition Coaching for the Novice Coach

  2. Michael Ricci

    Nice article !!!

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