Olympic Weightlifting Programming – The complete guide

The Complete Guide to Olympic Weightlifting Programming

So what are the key factors you need to think about when looking at programming for Olympic Weightlifting? From a cookie cutter program point of view and for absolute essentials, every athlete needs to improve their leg strength, explosiveness and technique in the primary lifts; the Snatch and Clean and Jerk.

How to program for Olympic weightlifting

Essentially as a coach you should be looking to build 3 programs that you can implement for beginner, intermediate and advanced athletes, especially when working with groups in a crossfit class for example. By having these programs to mind, you can then make changes to each of these programs based on the individual athlete’s needs at the right time.

But when considering this it’s important to note that every single athlete has slightly different training requirements based on their anthropometry, current level of experience, the way their body will respond to specific stressors, what their current conditioning is like and the amount of time they have available. There’s a huge number of variables that a coach needs to be able to control to get the most out of their lifters and a good coach will recognise what assistance exercises need to be implemented and how much stress their lifters can handle in each micro and meso cycle. Regular observations and necessary programme tweaks w ill make for much improved lifters.

Programming for yourself is more of a challenge, but if you follow the basic principles below you will be able to write a first class program that improves your weak points and overall lifts, for each stage of your lifting journey.

Program Design

The ideal scenario is to have your athletes train in groups, with each athlete having someone just below their level and someone just above so that they have someone to catch and someone to keep them on their toes. Fostering this type of excellence in a gym isn’t easy and is best done from an early age to encourage camaraderie and technique. Club Halterofilia Molins de Rei is a wonderful example of how to do so.

The best approach to take with your weightlifting programs is to create beginner, intermediate and advanced protocols that you can make tweaks to for each athlete to improve their long-term performance whilst making consistent improvements, peaking for their competitions.

For example, you may have an exceptional beginner lifter who is outperforming their own peers and the level(s) above, who doesn’t need to peak to win a competition. Taking this into account, it may be wise not to push the athlete to their peaks at this point, as you have the chance to reduce annual volume whilst keeping the athlete more than competitive at this level. From a long term lifting perspective this would be a smart move that only exceptional coaches can see. To understand all of this you;ll need at least a basic understanding of Hypertrophy¬†and Periodisation.

One core function of program design is goal setting. Having tangible goals keep the athlete psychologically focused, which is why I prefer using a variant on the Westside Method (Read more about how to use the Westside Method here) as the athlete will consistently break PRs week in week out whilst improving their weak points.

Westside Barbell logo

These goals aren’t just Snatch and Clean and Jerk based, as that’s too Linear a model with such slow progression it will likely hinder the athlete past a certain point. I’d typically include both Squat variations in their goal settings, alongside other measurable movements such as explosive box jumps and pressing variations, whilst improving each main lift variation in 3 week increments.

Another overriding consideration for program design is the overall annual volume. If the long-term goal (macrocycle) is in place, then annual volume should be dealt with in such a way that the athlete can’t become compromised by it. If the target is 12-15,000 lifts in a year, if the athlete has to peak for too many competitions they won’t hit the required volume limit in order for them to improve and build up that base level of technique and strength that muscles need to function.

Asian weightlifter working with heavy loads

Furthermore, specific non-weightlifting stressors can cause the athlete to be at greater risk to overtraining and reduce their performance. For younger athletes; exams, puberty, parental relationships can all have huge impacts. For more experienced ones, life stresses like money and jobs can have the same impact. Knowing how to reduce training to account for this needs to be part of a coaches arsenal and planned into your training programs.

Key Factors for Determining Programming Effectiveness

  • The Speed of both Athlete and Barbell: The more talented the athlete, the more consistent the speed of the barbell
  • The Athlete’s Energy Levels and Mood: If an athlete is becoming overstrained, then they’re likely to become exhausted and irritable quickly. This could also be from a lack of food
  • The Athlete’s Physiology: If an athlete consistently complains of diarrhoea or stomach upset, this is an indication that the training is too taxing
  • Sleep: We’re all aware of how important sleep is to recovery, but if an athlete consistently complains of waking up and falling asleep several times in the night, then this usually indicates overtraining
  • Progress: An obvious one, but setting rep or 1RM goals for the main lifts (and variations) indicates the required progress and that your periodised program is working. Learn more about Periodisation here.

Once the athlete has reached the peaking phase of their program and they’ve tested the 1RM, it’s important to evaluate performance, not just the success rate of the lifts.

  • What is the reason for the failed lifts?
  • Does the athlete continue to have a weak point in their physiology that the previous cycle didn’t fix?
  • Are the accessory exercises best suited for explosive power and speed?
  • Do they fail on the Jerk section of the movement or are they weak overhead?

Once you’ve critically evaluated performance then you can add in variations and accessory movements to combat the missed lifts. See How to Correct the Forward Jump in the Clean for how you can use variations and accessory movements to correct flaws.

Only once a coach understands periodisation, homeostasis, stressors, individualised performance aspects and GAS, then should he begin programming for athletes other than himself.

Olympic Weightlifting Programming for Beginners

The most important aspect to consider when creating a program for beginners is that it needs to promote balance in the Clean and Jerk and the Snatch. Part of the training must develop weak points, of which there will be many at the start, but the overall development of the athlete should incorporate a large number of exercises to promote overall strength and ensure the athlete knows how to utilise an array of full body movements; we’re looking to promote kinaesthetic movements and there’s none more complicated than Olympic lifts.

Beginners will be in need of promoting explosive leg power and some will struggle with the flexibility required to get into the correct positions or have a reduced range or motion available to them. Looking at these 3 examples you can see why exercise variety for a beginner is so important because without the athlete in question performing a real variety of lifts, you can tell where their weak points are. This process needs to continue until the athlete reaches a balanced state of strength – an initial 12 week cycle without a peaking phase is usually a good starting point.

The below is an example of a Beginners Olympic Weightlifting program. There’s too many variables for this to be used for every beginner however; if the lifter starts Olympic Weightlifting in their mid-20’s like myself, but come from a sporting and weight training background, then teaching someone the basics of squatting is going to turn them off. Whereas training technique and explosive speed strength is going to be far more beneficial.

Beginners Olympic Weightlifting Program

This program assumes that either yourself or the beginner you’re coaching has a base understanding of the Olympic lifts and:

A) A degree of sporting background

B) Recovery and capacity beyond what a true novice would have

C) The time to dedicate 4 days a week too

The key to any beginners program is training consistency, linear progression and exercise variation. As the programs advance specificity increasesas weak points diminish and strength / technique improves.

Day 1

Back Squat | 5 x 5 | 70-85% 1RM

Snatch | 4 x 2 | 70-85% 1RM | The % here is based on the athlete’s capabilities and what they feel comfortable doing at the time

Hang Clean | 4 x 3 | 70% | Working on Time to Fixation


Day 2

Push Press | 5 x 3 | 70-80% 1RM

Clean | 4 x 2 | 75-85% 1RM | The % here is based on the athlete’s capabilities and what they feel comfortable doing at the time

Hang Snatch | 4 x 3 | 70-75% 1RM | Working on Time to Fixation


Day 3

Front Squat | 5 x 3 | 75-85% 1RM

Power Clean from Pins | 4 x 2 | 75-85% 1RM

RDL’s | 3 x 8-10 | 50-60% 1RM | Focus should be on a controlled descent and building power and contractile strength through the hamstrings and lower back

Explosive Plyometrics

– Box Jumps

– Pull Ups

– Press Ups

Day 4

Clean Grip Deadlifts with Shrug| 5 x 3 | 75%

Leg Press | 5 x 5 | 80% 1RM

Split Jerk | 4 x 2 | 75-80% 1RM

Overhead Squat | 5 x 5 | 50-60% 1RM | Focus on a controlled descent and getting used to the bottom position.

Necessary Weak Point Training –

Weak points for beginners are likely to be many and varied. My suggestion would be to start with hamstrings and lower back exercises as posterior chain development is crucial for the Olympic lifts. Hamstring Extensions, Good Morning Variations and RDLs would be my beginner preference for 3 – 4 sets of 10 reps.

For intermediate lifters I would employ an exaggerated eccentric movement to the main lifts and their variations; something sorely missing in Olympic weightlifting.

Intermediate Olympic Weightlifting Program

The key differences between this beginners cycle and this intermediate cycle are the additional day of work, the Conjugate Method has been utilised as an athlete’s capacity improves further and an additional day including a Squat variation is added in. On top of this the exercise selection will decrease slightly in the 3 week period, but the intensity is higher. This encourages slightly more specificity and an intermediate lifter should have a solid base to work from.

Using the Conjugate method keeps an athlete fresh, allows them to hit PR’s whilst working on weak points and improving their speed, power and true strength without the need for testing weeks or burnout when cycled properly. You can read more about Westside style programming here. Some of the Olympic lifts can be further improved by adding in isometric or eccentric holds to the lift, especially if an athlete is weak in a certain portion of the lift.

Day 1

Back Squat | 7 x 3 | 80-90% 1RM

Snatch | 6 x 2 | 75-85% 1RM |

Hang Clean | 4 x 3 | 75% | Working on Time to Fixation


Good Mornings

Lateral Raises

Skull Crushers

Day 2

Front Squat | 5 x 3 | 75-85% 1

Clean | 6 x 2 | 75-85% 1RM |

Hang Snatch | 4 x 3 | 70-75% 1RM | Working on Time to Fixation



Chest Press

Shoulder Press

Day 3

Push Press | 5 x 3 | 75-85% 1RM

Power Clean from Pins | 6 x 2 | 75-85% 1RM

RDL’s | 3 x 8-10 | 60% 1RM | Focus should be on a controlled descent and building power and contractile strength through the hamstrings and lower back

Explosive Plyometrics

– Box Jumps

– Pull Ups

– Press Ups

Day 4

Back Squat | 6 x 4 | 82.5 – 87.5% 1RM

Clean Grip Deadlifts with Shrug| 6 x 2 | 75-80% | Standing on a weight plate to increase power production off the ground

Split Jerk | 6 x 2 | 75-80% 1RM

Weighted Box Jump Variation | 6-7 x 3 | +5-10kg

Day 5

– Necessary Weak Point & Technique Training –

Not a day to go too heavy, but it should include some form of Olympic lifts to work on the weakest points and a Back Squat variation like so:

Leg Press | 5×5 | 80% 1RM

Hang Power Clean | 4 x 2 | 85-90% 1RM

Hang Power Snatch | 4 x 2 | 85-90% 1RM

GHR’s | 4×10


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