Coaching Intermediate Weightlifters

The advanced, non-elite lifter is a subset of weightlifting athlete that is often misunderstood and mishandled. We are defining this intermediate athlete as one who has qualified for and or competed in National level events, but is likely not an “A” session lifter. They are likely not yet within striking distance of the podium.

These athletes have passed the beginner phases, but are not ready to compete at the top tier of the sport. They are essentially the middle child of the weightlifting community.

We have quite a few of these athletes in our developmental process at LiftLab Co and it dawned on me that we typically have to have more in depth conversations with these athletes about the changes in their training and where the training is headed.

Although this can be one of the hardest groups of athletes to work with, I think that if you can manage the transition phase from intermediate to elite, it is often one of the most rewarding cohorts of athletes to train.

Here is where you start:

These athletes need to be communicated with and encouraged to look deeper into their training. They have moved beyond the point of needing a coach by their side walking them through every rep along the way. As athletes grow in the sport, they will become more autonomous.

One of my favorite and extreme examples of this is Iliya in the 2014 worlds warm up area. His coach looks so disengaged that he appears to be falling asleep. Consider this though, what does the coach really need to say to a world-class lifter 2 days before the world championships? The coach’s role has clearly changed from the time he started coaching Iliya to that moment.

Although autonomy increases as the athlete develops, there is still a need for coaching, so the coach should shift how they approach the athlete. The coach should take a more global perspective of their athletes’ training, becoming less concerned with single sessions, and more focused on how the athlete progresses from month to month rather than day to day.

One thing we strongly suggest is that the athlete journal everything. This is critical because as the athlete progresses, they should track actual volume, nutrition, and how they feel when one or the other is manipulated. In addition, PRs come less frequently, it is beneficial to be able to look back and realize that progress is still being made.

At this point, I also like the athlete to see the 30,000 foot view. They are probably mature enough to see the big picture of training, so it can be beneficial to discuss and ensure they understand the “why” we are executing a block of training a certain way. Sitting down and having a conversation about the 30,000 foot view on training can be critical to getting the athlete on board with the plan moving forward.

I find this discussion is crucial in the American training model which now meshes Crossfit and weightlifting clubs. In my experience, athletes can get distracted because this is the point in training where progress slows a bit - PRs don’t come every other day. It can be a challenge to stay focused on the long term plan when they see athletes training with a ton of volume and variety and they begin to consider making a change for the sake of change.

Guide the Training:

Once you get to this level, the coach should be guiding the training. Essentially, you will have identified one, maybe two, things to work on technically. Realistically, those things are not going to change overnight. The coach at this point should keep the feedback focused only on those critical areas. Sure, the athlete may miss a lift here or there as the result of a mistake they don’t typically make, but it is unnecessary to harp on this. The coach needs to keep the 30,000 foot view at all times and keep in mind what is the most critical fix.

Work on weak points

Along those same lines, the errors that are causing the athlete to miss lifts may just be physical limitations. For example, you may lack shoulder mobility and the problem is not the strength or the technique – it is the fact that you can not get your arm into the correct position above your head.

Similarly—suppose your technique is pristine and mobility is flawless yet every time you attempt a heavy lift you crumble. Your problem is strength. You don’t need more technical cueing to get better—you need a squat program.

One final note:

As a moderately advanced lifter, the athlete has become comfortable with the fact that training is training. They can’t get overly hyped up when the training is going well. They also cannot go into the tank when the training is bad. My point is training is just that – training. Your performance on meet day and your journey to get there is all that matter.

Taking training to the next level is extremely boring. Athletes need to constantly remind themselves of the end goal and stay focused on that.

Having been blessed to be surrounded by exceptional talents, one trait they all share is that in general, they lead extraordinarily boring lives. . They eat, they train, they nap, they eat, they practice, they sleep– that’s it. Being great requires a lot of repetition of one thing. Instagram doesn’t like boring training – but champions do. And guess what? The better you get, the more boring the training.


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