A Practical Programming Guide

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The perfect program is like a ninja cat holding a golden revolver riding a unicorn, it only exists on the Internet. But seriously, when titling this article I chose the word practical for a reason, it’s a reference you can use. Programming for weightlifting is like folklore, everybody has a story, a way, an idea, but they all contain certain basic principles that allow you to plug and play as you need. I’ve written hundreds of training cycles and my style has evolved over the years as I’ve met many successful coaches who’ve coached athletes from beginners to Olympians. I’ve noticed some differences, some large and some small, but the basics are always there.

Writing a program starts with an annual cycle. That’s a fancy term for the big picture, the long-term training plan. This is easy to do, it’s basically a year of training, and there are people who plan a quadrennial or 4 year cycle based on the Olympic Games. I prefer a year as it gives us the ability to make short-term and long-term goals for the athlete and allows us to change things easier without changing years of planning. Here’s what you need to do right now, pull out a calendar and contact your local LWC and get a competition schedule, pick some meets, plug them in. I suggest spreading them out 2-3 months apart which gives you 2-3 months to prepare for each. That gives you a total of 4-5 a year. If you’re a national level lifter you may compete less, focusing solely on larger meets like the American Open, the Arnold, Nationals, and any scheduled trials event for an international team. If you have less experience I suggest the 4-5 meets per year plan and you can always do more and use the meet as a heavy training day/practice and really peak for 2-3 meets that you really care about doing well at. Here’s a sample annual cycle:



March – Meet 1 (Arnold)


May – Meet 2 (can be used as national qualifier if you didn’t at Meet 1, or “Practice”)


August – Nationals




December – American Open

So if we spread things out evenly let’s say we have a meet at the end of March, that gives us a 12 week macrocycle to plan. A macrocycle is simply one smaller cycle that ends with a meet with specific goals like increasing strength, fixing a technique issue, or building to specific numbers. This is usually accomplished in phases called mesocycles. Mesocycle is a fancy term for a portion of a competition cycle usually lasting 3-6 weeks. It doesn’t really matter what country you look at the general principle is the same, there is a preparatory cycle in the beginning, a competition or intensity cycle, this is then followed by a taper to peak the day of the meet. Some coaches will follow a meet with a transitional cycle, allowing the lifter to get a break from the grind. So if we wanted to prepare for a meet at the end of March I would write the mesocycles like so:

January: Preparation 1, higher volume/lower intensity

February: Preparation 2, medium volume/medium intensity

March: Competition, low volume/higher intensity with a taper/peak

The next thing to look at is the microcycle, an individual training week. It should be written out based on the goals of the mesocycle it falls in. They should add on to each other in a way that allows you to build your ability as a lifter without running yourself into the ground. So our 3 month cycle would look like this:

Mesocycle 1: Preparation 1

  1. Microcycle 1
  2. Microcycle 2
  3. Microcycle 3
  4. Microcycle 4 – deload

Mesocycle 2: Preparation 2

  1. Microcycle 1
  2. Microcycle 2
  3. Microcycle 3
  4. Microcycle 4 – deload

Mesocycle 3: Competition

  1. Microcycle 1
  2. Microcycle 2
  3. Microcycle 3 – begin Peak
  4. Microcycle 4 – Taper, meet

So there’s a 12-week Meet cycle that fits into our yearly Macrocycle.

To further our discussion, this is the point where you can set goals and work on specifics. If for instance you have issues going around the knee in the snatch we can work on that in our Preparation Cycle 1 like so:

Mesocycle 1: Preparation 1

  1. Microcycle 1 – Snatch with Pause at Knee x2reps/5sets
  2. Microcycle 2 – Snatch with Pause at Knee + Snatch x 1+1reps/5sets
  3. Microcycle 3 – Snatch Pull with Pause at Knee + 2 Snatch 1+2reps/5sets
  4. Microcycle 4 – deload – Snatch x 1rep/5sets

This gives us 4 weeks of introducing the pause at the knee and slowly removing it to correct an issue. You could use anything, complexes, multiple rep schemes, this is just one example and you can experiment over multiple cycles and find what gives you the best results. The key is to understand that organizing your training by planning cycles allows you to plan your success, instead of just walking into the gym and doing random things and hoping it all works out.

There is so much information on the web it can be a chore to figure it all out and becomes overwhelming. So to compensate I’m going to give you some resources I think will help you. I know this is a typical reference, but Artie Drechsler’s The Weightlifting Encyclopedia: A Guide to World Class Performance is continually a go-to resource for me. It contains information on Russian style programming, Bulgarian, Cuban, and others. It’s a great resource and I recommend it along with The Training of the Weightlifter by R. A. Roman. This is a translated Russian text, but it is straight to the point and if you read it start to finish you will have a good understanding of how to write programs based on their principles as they were written at the time.

There are a number of individuals who travel to China and bring back information. I’ve been interested in the Chinese as they appear to have combined Russian variety with Bulgarian intensity and developed a system all their own. A number of coaches and lifters have written about their work, Kirksman Teo, Larry Yang, and others. A great resource if interested is Coach Ma Jianping of Lindenwood University. A former Chinese high level lifter he goes every year to China for a training camp with athletes and has brought Coach Yu Jie (coaches Lu Xiaojun, Liao Hui, and Tian Tao) to the states.

Now to get back to the concept of the macrocycle…

Macrocycle’s are broken up into mesocycles each with their own goals. Remember when programming you will never be able to write a program that has a single mesocycle that will increase a large number of qualities. The biggest mistake I’ve seen in programming is lifters who try to fix everything in one macro or mesocycle. You need to give yourself time. Being a weightlifter is like making a fine American Bourbon. You can rush a decent one out in a year, but the best come from aging slowly in fine oak barrels deep in the Appalachian Mountains. I’m not saying you need to move to the woods and live in a trapper shack, but let’s be real, you want it all, now.   We all do. The reality is, and the Russian’s have done a lot of research on this, it will take years to scratch the surface of your potential, right around 4 to be honest. In that time you will develop YOUR technique, and get stronger, then it could take another 4-6 years to become world class.

The struggle is real.

However, like most things in life, the journey is what matters, not the destination. Take the time to plan your success and you will see steady growth. Have a big goal and then break it down piece by piece and work backwards.  My big goal is to qualify for Nationals, but first I have to qualify for the American Open, and before that I need to snatch 120kg and Clean and Jerk 150kg. By planning my training in an annual cycle with smaller goals in each macrocycle I’ll get there.

So will you.



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