August; Program Design

One of the greatest challenges, that a coach faces, is to develop a program that allows the athlete to improve their performance. While no single program is the answer to every athlete’s goal, every program should be based upon sound principles that are known to produce results. All programs should include the following goals:

  • Improve Performance
  • Increase Work Capacity
  • Correct Technique
  • Prevent Injury


Training can produce two things: Improvement or Collapse. When coaches understand the principals of training and incorporate them properly, improvement can be maximized and collapse minimized.


General Concerns


When developing programs the following concerns need to be addressed.

Time: How much time, both per day and per week can the athlete devote to training? It is important to realize that younger athletes and novice athletes cannot train at the same level as adult or experienced athletes. Programs must me modified to meet these concerns.

Athlete Level: What type of innate ability does the athlete possess? The selection of exercises and progressions are an important factor in developing confidence in an athlete. Writing programs that athletes cannot complete serves little purpose, as the athlete will become disenchanted, making training even more difficult.

“X” Factor: What is the athletes’ motivation? Understanding the athlete’s personal goals is an important factor when writing programs. Those athletes, whose desire to achieve is high, will certainly respond to intense training with more enthusiasm than the less motivated athlete will.

Rational of Program Design


USA Weightlifting has spent a great deal of time researching, developing

and readapting   training programs that fit into the American lifestyle.

The program listed below has proved successful in developing beginning weightlifters into competitive athletes.

The program is based upon sound principles of progressive overload, active rest, and neuromuscular adaptation. These programs are designed to improve the performance of competitive weightlifters and as such the concepts of Volume, Intensity, and Duration have been modified to produce such a result. These programs will not look, at all, like the programs seen in fitness centers, health clubs, or ‘muscle magazines’. The reason that they don’t is because, once again, these programs are designed for competitive weightlifters and must meet the demands of that sport.




Volume: The amount of work attempted in a program

Intensity: The level, or difficulty, of work attempted.

Duration: The number of sessions, or length of a session

Repetitions: The number of successive movements performed in an exercise

Sets: A group of repetitions performed after a period of rest

Micro Cycle: The daily program

Mini Cycle: The weekly program

Meso Cycle: The monthly program

Macro Cycle: The yearly program


All training should be purposeful. That means that all training, from daily to yearly, has a reason to it. Each cycle should have definite goals and should fit, smoothly, into the next cycle. Coaches should understand that training programs are templates and not  ‘etched in stone’. If an athlete has a tendency to miss jerks, after cleans, the coach will need to place in more overhead movements in order to make the correction. If athletes are showing fatigue modifications in the volume and or intensity should be made. One of the great challenges that a coach must meet is to adapt programs to the needs of each, individual athlete.


Compilation Principles for Daily Program Design

In putting together a schedule of lifts and exercises for each days training the following principles should be kept in mind.

  1. Always warm up thoroughly.
  2. Include lifts demanding high skill levels early on in the training session.
  3. Include high skill fast movements before slower strength building movements.
  4. Short or partial movements should be done towards the end of a session.
  5. Try to alternate pulling with pushing movements, where possible
  6. Try to get two snatch movements and two clean & jerk movements per week.
  7. Try to include a competitive lift or lift related movement, and overhead or jerk movement, a leg movement, a pull movement, a lower back and abdominal movement in each training session.
  8. With beginners try to give a great deal of variety with the lifts and exercises, without a lot of volume.


The program example, given below, follows the principles listed above. There are example of both three-day a week programs and four-day a week programs. It should be noted that these examples are general in nature. That is, this program is used for athlete progressing at an acceptable rate without any major flaws in technique in either of the competition lifts. The letters, listed after each exercise, will be explained in the section on Training Planing.

General Training Program Examples



Exercises (3 sessions per week)

Day One             Day Two     Day Three

Warm-up and stretching                 Warm-up and stretching     Warm-up & stretch

Snatch: (A)                                        Cleans: (A)                            Snatch: (A)

Snatch Pull: (C)                                Clean Pulls: (C)                    C & J: (A)

Neck Jerk: (A)                                   Rack Jerk: (A)                       Back Squat: (B)

Back Squat: (B)                                Front Squat: (B)                    Goodmornings

Goodmornings                                 Goodmornings                     Abdominal Work

Abdominal Work                               Abdominal Work                   Plyometrics

Plyometrics                                       Agility Drills


Exercises (4 sessions per week)

Day One                    Day Two                    Day Three                 Day Four

Warm-up                    Warm-up                    Warm-up                    Warm-up

Snatch: (A)                Clean: (A)                  Snatch:(A)                 C & J: (A)

Snatch Pull: (C)        Clean Pull: (C)          Snatch Pull:(C)         Clean Pull: (C)

Neck Jerk: (A)           Rack Jerk: (A)           Push Press: (A)        Front Squat: (B)
Back Squat: (B)        Front Squat: (B)        Back Squat:(B)         Goodmornings

Goodmornings         Goodmornings         Goodmornings         Abdominal Work

Abdominal Work       Abdominal Work       Abdominal Work       Agility Drills

Plyometrics               Agility Drills               Plyometrics


Training Plans

In order to insure that ongoing progress and development of both strength and skill occurs a program must have in it times of ‘work’ and times of recovery. Programs that do not include recovery phases will result in a collapse of both strength and skill. Programs that do not have phases of intensity will fail to produce improvement. The program listed below has elements of both work and rest, over a 13 week period that help to produce the results of both improved performance and increased work capacity.

Exercises have been placed into 3 categories. “A” lifts are the competition lifts, and their related  movements. “B” lifts are squatting movements and “C”  lifts are pulling movements. If progress is to occur the proper amount of time and effort must be placed upon each category.

When working an “A” lift priority must be given to proper execution. It does the athlete no good to become stronger and stronger in an improper movement. Athletes should perform because of their technique, not in spite of it. As the barbell gets heavier all the athletes focus, and energy, should be on performing the lift correctly. Performing sets with repetitions of 3, 2, and 1 help keep technique in its best form. Remember in competition the athlete only has to pick the barbell up once.

“B” lifts are squat movements. Here the focus is strength. Muscular and neuromuscular strength are best developed when repetitions are kept to 5 and below. When repetitions increase beyond 5 the strength developed moves more towards endurance and hypertrophy training. While this type of training my have some purpose for general development it is not “sport specific” to the needs of a weightlifter.


“C” lifts are pulls and shrugs. Studies here have produced a wide debate, all the way from doing them with incredible amounts of weight above an athletes maximum lift, to not doing them at all. For the purpose of developing the beginning lifter pulls are very important and therefore important to do correctly. The rational for doing pulls the way listed in this program comes from an article done by the Finnish Weightlifting Federation. (Komi, Viitasalo, Hakkinen and Kauhanen 1984) In this article the Finns recognized that when a significant amount of weight, more than 20% of what was lifted that day, was added to a “pull” this “pull” did not look like the pull phase of a lift. They found that “pulls” where slower and had a greater lateral displacement than the pull phase of an actual lift.

They suggested that an athlete only perform pulls at a weight, and for repetitions, that allowed the pull movement to mimic the pull phase of a lift. “C” lifts need to demonstrate a balance between strength development and technical execution.

The program below has been given the name “Supercompensation” as it allows the athlete to compensate periods of high intensity with periods of rest. This program is the result of work done by Lyn Jones, National Coaching Director, USAW, Dr. Michael Stone, Dr. Jay Kerney and Dr. Andy Fry, of the USAW’s Sports Science Committee as well as the efforts of National Junior Coach John Thrush and his National Junior Squads. With all training programs, the key to success is the cyclical variance of the volume and the intensity. Matveyve’s principle of progressing from high volume and low intensity to low volume and high intensity, with built in periods of recovery, is the basis of the following program.

Special Note: Listed below are the “target sets”. Athletes are expected to complete 3-5 warmup sets prior to the target sets

  1. Cycle one (Volume)

In this cycle emphasis is place upon preparing the athlete for the work that lay ahead. This phase is also known as a ‘target phase’ cycle. This means that after an athlete warms up they are to perform multiple sets and repetitions at the same weight.


  1. a) Week One (“Base” week)

1) “A” lifts are done 3/3 at 70%

2) “B” lifts are done 3/5 at 70%

3) “C” lifts are done 3/5 at 70% +10kg


  1. b) Week Two (“Volume” week)

1) “A” lifts are 4/3 at 75%

2) “B” lifts are 4/5 at 75%

3) “C” lifts are 4/5 at 75% + 10kg


  1. c) Week Three (‘Compensation’ week)

1) “A” lifts are 2/3 at 65%

2) “B” lifts are 2/5 at 65%

3) “C” lifts are 2/5 at 65% +10kg


  1. d) Week Four (“Performance” week)

1) “A” lifts are 2/3 at 80%

2) “B” lifts are 3/5 at 80%

3) “C” lifts are 3/5 at 80% +10kg


  1. II) Cycle Two (Strength Development)

In this phase the athlete continues to use the ‘target set’ philosophy. There are changes in both the volume and the intensity as the athlete attempts to develop the strength necessary to improve performance.


  1. a) Week One (“Base” week)

1) “A” lifts are 3/2 at 75%

2) “B” lifts are 3/3 at 75%

3) “C” lifts are 3/3 at 75% + 10kg

  1. b) Week Two (“Volume” week)

1) “A” lifts are 4/2 at 85%

2) “B” lifts are 4/3 at 85%

3) “C” lifts are 4/3 at 85% + 10kg

  1. c) Week Three (“Compensation” week)

1) “A” lifts are 2/2 at 70%

2) “B” lifts are 2/3 at 70%

3) “C” lifts are 2/3 at 70% + 10kg


  1. d) Week Four (“Performance” week)

1) “A” lifts are 2/2 at 90%

2) “B” lifts are 2/3 at 90%

3) “C” lifts are 2/3 at 90% + 10kg

III) Cycle Three (Neuromuscular or Performance Training)

In this phase the program changes to “Segment” training. In this type of training the athlete performs sets and repetitions at an increasing weight and then repeats that entire “segment”. The reason  is that this training best mimics what can occur in competition. It is not uncommon, that in competition, after an athlete takes their opening attempt they fall back into the rotation in such a way that it may be 5 to 10 minutes before they go out for their second attempt. Segment training conditions the athlete to go back into the warm-up and perform a lift (usually at 80% of their next attempt) in order to keep themselves mentally and physically prepared for the task at hand. Experienced coaches and athletes can attest to the successfulness of this type of training.


  1. a) Week One (“Base” week)

1) “A” lifts (75%/2,80%/2,85%/2)2

2) “B” lifts are 3/2 at 85%

3) “C” lifts are 3/2 at 85% + 10kg


  1. b) Week Two (“Volume” week)

1) “A” lifts (85%/1,90%/1, 95%/1)2

2) “B” lifts are 4/2 at 95%

  1. c) “C” lifts are 4/2 at 95% + 10kg


  1. c) Week Three (“Compensation” week)

1) “A” lifts are (70%/2,75%/2,80%/2)

2) “B” lifts are 2/2 at 80%

3) “C” lifts are 2/2 at 80% + 10kg


  1. d) Week Four (“Performance” week)

1) “A” lifts are (90%/1,95%/1,100%/1)2

2) “B” lifts are 2/2 at 100%

3) “C” lifts are 2/2 at 100% + 10kg


  1. IV) Competition Week

( A “loose” example. Every athlete prepares  differently and the coach and athlete need to   work together to develop the final week.)

Day One                                            Day Three

Snatch: (80%/1)3                             Snatch: (70%/1)3

C & J: (80%/1)3                                C & J:  (70%/1)3


Day Two                                            Day Four or Five

Snatch Pulls: (100%/3)3                 Competition

Clean Pulls: (100%/3)3

Bk. Squat: (80%/3)3




The “nice” thing about this program is that it has built in “check points”. An athlete can see progress from ‘Volume’ Cycles, to ‘Performance’ Cycles.  The athlete now has relative maxes for 5s, 3s and doubles. Goals can be set, during the next cycle, to increase relative maxes by 2.5 kilograms and such.

By changing the intensity each week, and making the assumption that as the intensity increases the athlete will need more warm-up sets prior to reaching the target sets volume is ‘automatically’ built into the program.


This illustrates, very simply, the basis of training program planning. As an athlete becomes more efficient in the sport more complex program can be developed and implemented. Volume can be increased by adding more sets, and even increasing the number of training days per week. Finally an athlete may even increase the number of training sessions per day, in order to bring about improved performance.



Goals of any program

  1. Improved performance
  2. Increased work capacity
  3. Correct technique
  4. Avoid Injury


Principles of daily program design

  1. Warm-up
  2. High Skills early in session
  3. Faster movements before slower movements
  4. Partial movements towards end of session
  5. Alternate pull and push movements when possible
  6. Competition Lift or related exercise

An Overhead movement

A leg movement

A pull movement

A back exercise

A waist exercise


  1. Beginners get the most variety
  2. Ideas in long term training


  1. As Intensity increases, volume decreases.
  2. Create both phases of “work” and “rest”
  3. Balance training between Hypertrophy, Muscular, and Neural cycles.
  4. As competition nears training should mimic competition conditions.