The annual plan for weightlifters should be created using a periodized training structure. In a periodized training plan, training is broken up into manageable units with differing training goals, exercises, and loads (Zatsiorsky & Kraemer, 2006). The training units are organized into an appropriate sequence of training means to maximize performance at specific times (Haff, 2016; Turner, 2011). The sequential planning of training is the cornerstone of a periodization plan and this is important for three reasons. First, fitness qualities build off of one another and greater adaptions result from the proper sequencing of training methods (Bompa & Buzzichelli, 2019; Kawamori & Haff, 2004). This is because muscle hypertrophy contributes to maximal strength development and maximal strength contributes to power development (Kawamori & Haff, 2004). Therefore, a training plan should be organized with a hypertrophy phase followed by a maximal strength phase, followed by a power phase (Bompa & Buzzichelli, 2019; Kawamori & Haff, 2004). Second, training adaptations take a long time (Bompa & Buzzichelli, 2019). Third, fitness qualities cannot be maintained at peak levels for long periods of time (Bompa & Buzzichelli, 2019). In a review article by Williams et al., (2017) they concluded that a periodized program is superior to a non-periodized program for the development of maximal strength. Also, the gains in maximal strength from a periodized program are consistent across ages and between genders (Williams et al., 2017). Further, strength should be emphasized before training power and speed (Stone et al., 2003). This is because improvements in maximal strength are correlated with improvement in power production with both light and heavy resistance (Stone et al., 2003). Therefore, the annual training program for weightlifters should be constructed into training periods for hypertrophy followed by maximal strength followed by power.
In the annual plan for weightlifters, the use of a hypertrophy phase is recommended 2-3 times per year (Stone et al., 2006). This type of training will not only help increase muscle mass but will lay a foundation for future strength and power work. It will also decrease injuries in the strength and power phases that follow (Stone et al., 2006). The increase in muscle mass through the increase in contractile elements is key to optimal strength adaptations (Schoenfeld et al., 2015). The two types of muscle hypertrophy are myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic (Zatsiorsky, 1992). Myofibrillar hypertrophyis the increase in muscle fiber diameter and is the desired type for athletes (Zatsiorsky, 1992). Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is the increase in muscle size through the increase in sarcoplasm, this type of growth does not directly increase muscle force capabilities (Zatsiorsky, 1992). The hypertrophy phase should use intensities in the 50-75% range and reps in the 8-12 range (Haff, 2016). Also, 10 sets or more per week per muscle group is best for optimal hypertrophy development (Schoenfeld & Grgic, 2018). The primary focus for increasing muscle mass should be on the muscles of the lower body as they are key to success in weightlifting (Lucero et al., 2019; Chen et al., 2013), but the upper body is also a contributor to success in weightlifting and should be developed as well (Chen et al., 2013). It should be mentioned that the rep ranges are for the assistance exercises, such as pulls, squats, and presses; not for the weightlifting competition movements and their variations (power snatch, power clean, jerk).
Maximal strength phase
The maximal strength phase is an important part of the annual plan because maximal strength is strongly correlated with the ability to generate power (Stone et al., 2005) and power generation is key to success in weightlifting (Flores et al., 2017b; Stone et al., 2006). As a result, the development of maximal strength is key to success in weightlifting. In general, it is recommended to use intensities that range from 75-95% of 1RM and sets and reps in the 2-6 range for the maximal strength phase (Haff, 2016; Bompa & Buzzichelli, 2019). At the beginning of the maximal strength phase, intensities are at the lower end of the range and reps on the higher end. This will build intermuscular coordination, which is an athlete’s technique and control in an exercise, and creates a transition from the lower intensity and higher volume training in the hypertrophy phase (Bompa & Buzzichelli, 2019). As the athlete progresses in the maximal strength phase, training intensities increase further and reps are decreased as the training focuses on building intramuscular coordination. Intramuscular coordination is the ability to recruit fast twitch fibers (Bompa & Buzzichelli, 2019). The exercises to focus on are exercises that directly improve weightlifting ability such as front squats, back squats, snatch deadlifts, and clean deadlifts. There is a strong correlation between squatting ability and weightlifting performance. In fact, a linear relationship exists between one rep maximum front and back squats and weightlifting performance (Lucero et al., 2019). Maximal strength in the pull is also very important (Sandau & Granacher, 2020; Harbili & Alptekin, 2014). For example, the first pull from the floor to knee (first pull) has a large effect on the maximal velocity reached at final extension (end of second pull), and as a result, the amount lifted (Sanau & Granacher, 2020). The first pull is dependent on maximal strength in the hip and knee extensors (Akkus, 2012; Sandau & Granacher, 2020; Harbili & Alptekin, 2014). This can be developed through the use of exercises such as snatch deadlifts, clean deadlifts, and from pulls from standing on risers (Sandau & Granacher, 2020). It is true that the lower body is key to success in Olympic weightlifting, but it is important not to neglect the upper extremities because they contribute to successful lifts (Chen et al., 2013). The deltoids and biceps play an important role in increasing peak barbell velocity, which increases the amount of weight that can be lifted (Chen et al., 2013). A few exercises that strengthen the upper extremities specific to weightlifting are muscle snatches, snatch grip behind the neck presses, push presses and upright rows.
The power phase is an important part of the annual plan because ability to develop power with high loads is key to success in Olympic weightlifting (Flores et al., 2017b; Ammar et al., 2018; Stone et al., 2006; Hori et al., 2005). An optimal relationship between force and velocity exists for each exercise that maximizes power output (Flores et al., 2017b; Kawamori & Haff, 2004). Training with this optimal load offers the greatest stimulus to improve power development (Soriano et al., 2015; Flores et al., 2017b; Ammar et al., 2017). The optimal load changes for different exercises and depends on the experience of the athlete; their current fitness, strength and training level; the nature of exercise; which part of the training cycle the athlete is in; and their technical background (Kawamori & Haff, 2004). Therefore, the optimal load is specific to an individual (Comfort et al., 2012; Kilduff et al., 2007; Cormie et al., 2007). Several studies have looked at optimal load in the snatch, clean, jerk and behind the neck jerk using Olympic weightlifters of differing ability levels as subjects. It is recommended that non-elite lifters use loads of 50-90% for the clean and 70-90% for the snatch (Flores et al., 2017b). For weightlifters of lower abilities and athletes it is best to use a wider variety of training loads to optimize power development (Flores et al., 2017b; Soriano et al., 2015). As a lifter becomes more advanced the range of loads used should narrow to intensities between 80-90% (Flores et al., 2017b; Ammar et al., 2017; Flores et al., 2017a). Interestingly, if a power clean is received in a quarter squat, power is optimal at 100% of what can be received at that height (Takei et al., 2019). Also, behind the neck jerks create greater peak power outputs at all intensities compared to jerks (Flores et al., 2017a). As a result, the behind the neck jerk is a beneficial exercise to improve jerk performance (Flores et al., 2017a).
Intensity and Volume
A coach preparing a weightlifter for competition needs to account for training volume and intensity to ensure continued progress and to decrease the likelihood of an injury from over working an athlete. Both the amount of volume and intensity needed for improving strength increase with elevated level of fitness (Peterson et al., 2005). For example, untrained people can increase maximal strength with intensities of 60% and 4 sets per exercise, recreationally trained need intensities of 80% and 4 sets per exercise, and athletes need intensities of 85% and 8 sets per exercise (Peterson et al., 2005). The strength response from volume loading follows a U-shaped graph with a moderate volume producing better strength gains compared to low and high volumes of training (Barbalho et al., 2020). A study of junior weightlifters by González-Badillo et al. (2005) found that moderate volume improves strength in junior weightlifters more than high and low volume training programs (González-Badillo et al., 2005). Both the low and high volume training programs had similar improvements in strength (González-Badillo et al., 2005). It is best for junior weightlifters to perform 85% or less of the total volume they can tolerate (González-Badillo et al., 2005). Further, a study by Siahkouhian and Kordi (2010) found that increasing training volume from 1 session to 2 sessions per day did not improve performance. The authors concluded that it is best for coaches to prescribe one lifting session per day (Siahkouhian & Kordi, 2010). It may be the case that the lifters in this study exceeded the optimal volume for strength improvements with the additional session per day. This might not be the case with more advanced athletes who need greater volumes to continue to improve. As stated earlier, intensity follows a similar pattern to volume in that greater intensity is needed as an athlete advances (Peterson et al., 2005). A study of junior weightlifters training with different average intensities by González-Badillo et al. (2006) found that the lower intensity group who performed 38 lifts above 90% improved performance the same as the high intensity group who performed 149 lifts above 90%. The moderate intensity group who performed 91 lifts above 90% improved significantly better than the low and high intensity groups (González-Badillo et al., 2006). The authors concluded that for a given lifter an optimal average intensity exists and over that threshold value performance improvements decrease. The value they determined for junior weightlifters is 79% of 1RM for average training intensity. Further increases in average training intensity do not result in increased performance in junior weightlifters (González-Badillo et al., 2006). These results are telling for young experienced weightlifters but not for elites, lower level lifters, or older lifters. The thing to remember is that training near the tolerable amount of lifts at or above 90% of 1RM is not as effective as a moderate amount of lifts above 90% of 1RM.
In conclusion, both volume and intensity follow a U-shaped curve with moderate levels providing the best stimulus. This U-shaped curve shifts to the right as an athlete advances with more volume and intensity required to progress to higher levels of fitness.
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