• Hot Topic: Teaching the Olympic Lifts in the Group Setting
    The increasing popularity of the Olympic lifts and their variations, as well as the training of a range of clientele types in the small group format, is pushing the need for broader education regarding the instruction of the lifts.
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  • Man performing snatch with barbellIntroduction
    The increasing popularity of the Olympic lifts and their variations, as well as the training of a range of clientele types in the small group format, is pushing the need for broader education regarding the instruction of the lifts. Because weightlifting remains an obscure sport with experienced coaches and athletes few and far between, instructional and technical methods can vary considerably.
    It can be difficult for coaches and trainers outside the weightlifting community to learn, develop, and perfect their own protocols for teaching the lifts. This commonly results in trainers and coaches either not teaching the lifts at all, or incorporating them in ways that are ineffective or unsafe.
    This Hot Topic presents an example program for instructing the Olympic lifts to a group of athletes or clients, and also provides guidance for developing instruction programs to suit each coach or trainer and their own specific circumstances.

    Foundation for Initiating an Instruction ProgramThe foundation of this instruction program is comprised of four elements:
    • Perspective
    • Knowledge
    • Humility
    • Planning
    • Perspective
    In order to create an effective program, strength and conditioning coaches must first understand the circumstances within which they will be operating. The first, and most obvious, is time: how much time is available in a single training session, and how many sessions will the coach have to complete the program? Training plans must conform to these parameters to ensure that the most work possible is accomplished in the allowable time. Next, strength and conditioning coaches need to consider the reasoning for teaching the lifts. 
    The nature and extent of the learning process for the lifts changes depending on the athletes’ or clients’ needs within a given program. Finally, who is the audience? This will affect the necessary timeframe, how the coach teaches the lifts, and what the coach expects or demands from the athletes or clients. Strength and conditioning coaches need to consider the training experience, age, interest and motivation of the clients or athletes.

    KnowledgeAlthough knowledge is an obvious point, its importance demands attention. One of the biggest mistakes strength and conditioning coaches make is attempting to teach things for which they lack sufficient experience and training. This is a disservice to the client or athlete, and can result in an ineffective or even dangerous training environment.

    HumilityAs an extension of knowledge, strength and conditioning coaches need to know when to say, “I don’t know.” In these cases, coaches can either learn what they don’t know and implement it, or get a more experienced coach or trainer involved.

    PlanningFew things work ideally without planning, and teaching the Olympic lifts is no exception. It is important to have a plan on the macrocycle level (year-long) before beginning any instruction program. This does not mean that coaches cannot modify their plan as the circumstances require, but it does mean that they have a guide as they progress. A plan helps ensure the economization of limited time, long-term progress, the client/athletes’ enjoyment of the program and their trust in the instructor.

    Preliminary ConsiderationsBefore coaches create the actual training program, they must consider a few elements to guide them through the process. Those elements include different skill levels among clients/athletes, regular or irregular influx of new clients/athletes, inconsistent training schedules of clients/athletes, available training time in each session and session series, interest and attention span of clients/athletes, the available space and equipment, and athlete assessment, including injury history and limitations. The following will discuss how these elements can affect teaching the Olympic lifts in a group setting.

    Different Skill LevelsIn most cases, a group session is comprised of athletes or clients of varying levels of experience, skill, and natural learning ability and talent. Even in groups of athletes performing at similar levels in a given sport, there can be surprising variance in the athletic abilities of athletes. For non-athletes, there is typically even greater variation with regard to ability and talent.

    The instruction program must utilize teaching drills that are simple to ensure that they are similarly effective for individuals of all abilities. The simplicity of teaching drills allows them to be taught relatively quickly, which means more time for actual performance and practice by the athletes or clients. Simpler drills also require less ongoing coaching as the program progresses, leaving more time for practice and instruction of future drills.

    Influx of New ClientsIn an ideal situation, an instruction program will have the same clients/athletes from start to finish. However, in many cases, new clients enter continuous programs at irregular times. These situations are closely related to the previous section; essentially meaning a mix of skill and experience levels can be assumed on any given day.

    The only way a program can accommodate this is with simple drills that require minimal initial instruction. This allows coaches or trainers to instruct at multiple levels in a single session, and allows clients/athletes to practice with a degree of independence while the instructors work with other groups, if necessary.

    Inconsistent Training SchedulesIn addition to new clients or athletes periodically entering a program, coaches also need to contend with inconsistent training schedules of individual athletes or entire teams. A training program must allow clients/athletes to work in this manner without disrupting the instruction process. This demands simple drills that can be learned and taught quickly and practiced somewhat independently.

    Available Training TimeHow much can be accomplished in a single training session depends primarily on the available training time of each client/athlete. More often than not, the Olympic lifts are only part of a total program, and consequently, it is difficult to dedicate entire sessions to teaching or learning them. 
    This may mean as little as 10–15 min of work dedicated to the Olympic lifts within a session. Obviously, in such cases the training plan needs to be different than it would be with an entire hour available for training. Equally important is the total time of the series of sessions. A series of four sessions will be significantly different from a series of 40 sessions. This affects not only how coaches teach, but likely what they teach as well.

    Interest and MotivationAn ideal situation for teaching the Olympic lifts involves a group of individuals whose primary goal is specifically to learn the lifts. However, this is often not the case. In the case of strength training for athletes, a coach may have a roomful of athletes who haven’t the slightest interest in snatching, cleaning or jerking; they may care only about playing football, or if interested in the gym at all, may be interested in nothing beyond benching and curling. For fitness or similar clients, the lifts may be a part of an overall program they enjoy and believe in, yet they may be skeptical of the lifts or simply do not show interest. Furthermore, any of these individuals may have little patience for learning drills and be anxious to perform the lifts immediately. With a group of relatively uninterested clients, technical discussions are not appropriate. While they may satisfy coaches’ interests, they may bore the clients and athletes and actually prove counterproductive. Coaches should keep things simple and keep things moving.

    The pace of the program must first consider safety and effectiveness, but it should take into account, as much as possible, keeping clients and athletes interested and motivated to the greatest possible extent. In no case should the coach expect to keep everyone completely happy at all times; that is simply unrealistic. However, clients and athletes should experience observable progress from session to session and receive explicit encouragement from the instructor.

    Equipment and SpaceThe facility in which the training takes place and the equipment available restricts the possibilities of exercises utilized within the training program or training session. Limited space and equipment with a relatively large group results in clients/athletes not working simultaneously, extending the amount of time required to complete any given amount of work. A lack of certain equipment, such as lightweight barbells or similar implements, also limits what drills can be used in the process of training.

    The Role of the Olympic Lifts in a Training ProgramWhat role the Olympic lifts play in the overall program affects how they are taught as well as the specifics of what can and should be taught. If a program is specifically and entirely geared toward teaching the Olympic lifts, this is a non-issue. More than likely, the lifts are one part of a greater program as the amount of time and energy put into learning them must be accordingly scaled.

    Athlete AssessmentTwo of the primary factors affecting how and what strength and conditioning coaches teach are the abilities and limitations of the clients or athletes. With that being said, some type of assessment is necessary to identify the abilities and limitations of any individual or group being trained. Ideally, this evaluation occurs before entry into a training program so any limitations can be addressed and corrected, rather than modifying the program to accommodate such limitations; although, in many cases this is unavoidable. 
    An alternate program can be created that addresses a set of common problems, but this necessitates an extended timeframe, which may not always be possible. The assessment should consider general strength training experience, technical proficiency with the Olympic lifts in cases of prior experience, flexibility/mobility, injury history, and related limitations.

    Clients or athletes should be evaluated for technical proficiency in the Olympic lifts or variations if they have prior experience. Proficiency in other barbell lifts, such as the back squat, deadlift and press, should also be considered. Finally, general athletic ability should be taken into account, as this will influence an individual’s inclinations and learning ability. This part of the assessment is ideally performed in person by the instructor, but can also be performed via video, or with a conversation with the individual’s previous coach or trainer.

    Since the Olympic lifts demand specific flexibility, insufficient flexibility is one of the most common limitations clients and athletes experience when learning the lifts. Mobility can always be improved, with the exception of certain injuries or anatomical issues, but it can be a long process, particularly without total compliance. Clients with limited mobility require certain modifications to the lifts and depending on the nature and degree of these modifications, it may be necessary to make significant changes to the training program. 
    Most commonly, clients may be unable to perform the full lifts and instead must limit themselves to the power variations. Flexibility should be evaluated in the following positions and movements: Olympic back squat, front squat, overhead squat, clean rack position, jerk rack position, and jerk overhead position.
    Most programs need to incorporate some amount of flexibility work, or at the very least, provide resources and encouragement to clients and athletes to help them improve flexibility outside of the actual training time.As with any client or athlete, it is necessary to be aware of previous injuries and any resulting limitations. When discussing this topic, it is important to encourage the individual to disclose any and all history of injury, whether apparently pertinent or not. If necessary, medical clearance is critical in order for clients and athletes to participate. It is important to modify a training program to accommodate certain limitations, such as limited range of motion that may prevent achieving a full depth squat, for instance.

    Designing an Instruction ProgramWith all of the previous aspects taken into consideration, coaches can move on to designing an instruction program to teach the Olympic lifts. Coaches should work in blocks of 3 – 4 weeks when possible, as this provides a reasonable amount of time for gradual progression, but is short enough to satisfy most attention spans. Coaches can teach all three lifts in a single brief session, but this is impossible to execute well; no athlete, no matter how talented, can master such skills in such a brief period of time. A more gradual progression will always produce better results in the long term.

    Based on the assessments of the clients/athletes and the situation, strength and conditioning coaches need to determine what lifts or variations will be taught in an instruction program, (e.g., one lift only, power or hang variations only, etc.).

    Next, coaches need to determine the actual drills to be used in the program. Every coach has their own approach to teaching the lifts, and presumably most change somewhat with the circumstances. Coaches should be extremely comfortable with the drills used in each program and be confident in teaching them.

    Once the drills and progressions have been chosen, coaches need to assign repetitions and sets. This is where significant change will likely occur during the implementation of the program due to the need for clients or athletes to practice given drills more or less than expected or due to changes in available time.

    Generally with learning drills, it is preferable to not exceed five consecutive reps; an excessive number of reps can create fatigue, both physical and mental, even with little or no weight. However, fewer reps in a set means that a given training session will take longer with the same total volume. At this stage, five reps is a reasonable balance. How many total sets can be performed in a given session will depend on the length of the session, the number of drills performed, and the amount of time necessary to teach them effectively. Rest periods between sets can be extremely brief at this stage, such as 20 – 30 s in many cases, because individuals will not be using considerably large loads. When working in brief sessions, it is important for coaches to keep clients and athletes on pace.

    ImplementationIf a particular group of athletes train on the same schedule, drills can and should be instructed and practiced in a group format. In the case of new clients entering the program periodically and/or having inconsistent training schedules, the most advanced clients should be instructed first because their instruction will be a relatively short process, and they can proceed into largely independent practice while the instructor works with newer clients, who need more time and attention.

    Copies of the program can be posted or handed out to keep clients not currently receiving instruction or coaching on task, and more advanced clients should be encouraged to help newer clients. This will free the instructor to work with those clients that need coaching the most.

    Sample ProgramThe following program serves as a simple example of implementing the process outlined in this Hot Topic. It assumes no serious remedial work is necessary, that clients have experience with basic barbell lifts, and that the Olympic lifts are only a part of the overall program.

    This program teaches the lifts from the hang position only. This means that clients will learn the most important parts of the snatch and clean and build a solid foundation for future advancement. The program first teaches the snatch which is followed by the jerk and clean. The snatch is the ideal lift to teach proper hip extension and leg action; there are more flexibility issues with the power snatch compared to the power clean because it is the most explosive of the three lifts. The snatch is followed by the jerk to work on leg drive and balance the pulling element of the snatch. The clean generally comes very easily for clients following the snatch and jerk.

    The following program is designed to be performed three days per week for four weeks and take approximately 30 min per session. In most cases, clients will use an empty barbell, or lightweight technique barbell, to learn and practice the drills. A PVC pipe or wooden dowel can be used initially for snatch drills, if necessary. Later in the program, if appropriate, clients can use more weight if it allows proper execution of the exercises and does not extend the time necessary to complete the work.

    Day 1Overhead Squat – 5 x 5
    Pressing Snatch Balance – 5 x 5
    Drop Snatch – 5 x 5 

    Day 2Drop Snatch – 3 x 5
    Mid-Hang Snatch Pull – 7 x 5
    Tall Muscle Snatch – 5 x 5

    Day 3Tall Muscle Snatch – 3 x 5
    Tall Snatch – 7 x 5

    Day 4Drop Snatch – 1 x 5
    Mid-Hang Snatch Pull – 3 x 5
    Tall Snatch – 1 x 5
    Mid-Hang Power Snatch – 3 x 5
    Mid-Hang Snatch – 5 x 5

    Day 5Push Press Behind Neck – 2 x 5
    Push Press – 5 x 5
    Mid-Hang Snatch – 4 x 5

    Day 6Push Press – 3 x 5
    Tall Power Jerk – 3 x 5
    Power Jerk – 5 x 5
    Power Snatch – 3 x 5 

    Day 7Push Press – 2 x 5
    Tall Power Jerk – 2 x 5
    Power Jerk – 3 x 5
    Split Jerk Behind Neck – 3 x 5
    Split Jerk – 5 x 5
    Mid-Hang Snatch – 3 x 5
    Day 8Front Squat – 3 x 5
    Mid-Hang Clean Pull – 5 x 5
    Tall Muscle Clean – 5 x 5
    Mid-Hang Power Snatch – 3 x 5
    Jerk – 3 x 5

    Day 9Front Squat – 1 x 5
    Mid-Hang Clean Pull – 5 x 5
    Tall Clean – 4 x 5
    Mid-Hang Snatch – 3 x 5
    Power Jerk – 3 x 5

    Day 10Mid-Hang Clean Pull – 2 x 5
    Tall Clean – 2 x 5
    Mid-Hang Power Clean – 3 x 5
    Mid-Hang Clean – 5 x 5
    Mid-Hang Power Snatch – 3 x 5

    Day 11Mid-Hang Power Snatch – 2 x 5
    Mid-Hang Snatch – 3 x 5
    Mid-Hang Power Clean – 2 x 5
    Mid-Hang Clean – 3 x 5
    Power Jerk – 2 x 5
    Jerk – 3 x 5

    Day 12Mid-Hang Power Snatch – 2 x 5
    Mid-Hang Snatch – 3 x 5
    Mid-Hang Power Clean – 2 x 5
    Mid-Hang Clean – 3 x 5
    Power Jerk – 2 x 5
    Jerk – 3 x 5
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    About the Author:

    Greg Everett

    Greg Everett is the author of the book Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes and Coaches, publisher and editor in chief the Performance Menu journal, owner of Catalyst Athletics in Sunnyvale, CA, and head coach of the Catalyst Athletics weightlifting team.

  • Disclaimer: The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) encourages the exchange of diverse opinions. The ideas, comments, and materials presented herein do not necessarily reflect the NSCA’s official position on an issue. The NSCA assumes no responsibility for any statements made by authors, whether as fact, opinion, or otherwise. 
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      I think this is an excellent article. I just finished two sessions in BC with a mixed group of clients similar to the article content. I have the clients do only 3 reps. for the explosive lifts when learning and max. of 5 for pulls, squats, etc. so theymore» can concentrate on technique. This is my 50'th year of coaching Weightlifting.«less

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