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Coaching Youth Weightlifters with a Sample Program
I’ve coached athletes from 7-years-old all the way to Masters Athletes. Most people believe that coaching youth athletes is a difficult task, but I disagree. When I talk about Youth Athletes, I am talking about all athletes younger than 18-years-old. Youth athletes are full of energy and excitement. They also come to a coach without preconceived notions and movement patterns. They are a blank canvas.
It is a lot easier to start from scratch as opposed to erasing bad movement patterns before moving forwards. Their minds are also free of every day distractions like paying bills and jobs. They are at that beautiful stage of life where the mind is starving for new input, and all you have to do is feed it.
The key to Team USA’s future is our youth program. That is why I am writing this article, and that is why I am going to write more of these in the future. I want all coaches and parents of youth athletes to be informed. Weightlifting is catching fire throughout the world, so let’s try to have a controlled burn.
Here are a few keys:
1. Technique is key! The movement pattern that they learn early on will probably stick with them forever. Remember that we are all built differently, so don’t try to make them fit someone else’s technique. Here are the basics:
• Start with shoulders higher than the hips with shoulders over or slightly in front of the bar
• Set the back tight with the scapula tucked together and down and the low back arched tight.
• During the initial pull maintain the position of the torso
• Finish in the power position with the torso vertical, bar deep in the upper thigh/hips with the knees bent 4-6 inches
• The feet start about hip width and jump to about shoulder width to receive the bar
• Receive the bar with a vertical spine and catch it with your core stable with no rounding
These are just a few to focus on. When I met Klokov at the 2014 Nationals, I only had time for a few questions. I asked him how the Russians teach the pull. He told me that the only thing they focus on is the start and the finish, and then they let the individual build of the lifter determine the rest. This approach makes a lot of sense to me biomechanically.
2. Movement Before Load! This means that I focus more on the way that they are moving than the amount that they are moving. If they are making mistakes in their technique, I am not going to load them. I would be encouraging bad movement patterns by doing that. However, if they are moving well, I will load them.
My biggest pet peeve is being told that youth athletes shouldn’t go heavy. Listen to me clearly, heavy is relevant. That means athletes like CJ Cummings needs to go heavy. His body is strong and prepared. He is ready for load obviously.
I often wonder why parents have such a problem with young kids lifting weights. They will let them play youth football and soccer, but they freak out at the idea of lifting weights. There is a lot more impact on the body during a tackle or two athletes colliding in a soccer game than will ever be experienced lifting weights.
Here is my rule of thumb. I will load until either the technique or the stability in the body starts to break down. That’s when I shut the athlete down. Sometimes coaches have criticized me for posting a PR video of an athlete catching a weight without perfect form. That drives me crazy. The athlete demonstrated perfect form during all the preceding lifts, but in the final lift something wasn’t perfect. That happens.
My question is this. If a football player doesn’t tackle with perfect form, do you take them out of the game? What’s more dangerous? The answer is the football game. Let’s use our common sense when it comes to strength training. I want the athletes lifting with perfect technique 99.5% of the time. If I get that, I feel like the mission is accomplished.
3. Stick with the Important Exercises. If you want to teach your athletes Olympic weightlifting, I recommend sticking with Snatch, Clean, Jerk, Squats, and maybe pulls. You can add some general strength movements, but have these lifts in every session. They will get better at the movements that they practice the most. If you crowd their brain with too many movements, they won’t get better at any of them.
4. Have fun. If you don’t do this, they won’t keep coming. If you are working with 12-15 year-olds, they are going to go to a place that is like a Bulgarian Training Hall. They want to have fun while getting stronger. I recommend playing games at the end like tag or have a fun competition like vertical leap or broad jump. Notice that the fun games are also athletic.
5. Teach them life. I like to teach my athletes about goal setting, mindset, and nutrition because I know that they will take those skills and apply them the rest of their lives. They might not be Olympians, but the skills that they learn during training can last a lifetime.
Here is a sample of a three-day training program:
Day 1 Week 1-4
Snatch 5 x 3
Clean & Jerk 5 x 3
Back Squat 5×5
Upper Muscular Imbalance Work 1 1a. Push-Ups 3 x submaximal
1b. Pull-Ups 3 x submaximal
1c. KB Bentover Rows 3 x 10
Game Play tag for last 10 minutes
Snatch 10-15 x 1 performed every minute on the minute
Clean & Jerk 10-15 x 1 performed every minute on the minute
Front Squat 5×5
Upper Muscular Imbalance 2 1a. Push-Ups 3 x submaximal
1b. Pull-Ups 3 x submaximal
1c. KB High Pulls 3 x 10
Game Play basketball for 10 minutes
Snatch Complex 3 Pull, 3 Snatches and 3 OH Squats 5 sets (work up as long as form is perfect)
Clean & Jerk Complex Max 3 Cleans, 3 Front Squats , and 3 Jerks 5 sets (work up as long as form is perfect)
Back Squat 90% of weight used on Day 1 for 3×5
Standing Presses 5×5
Competition Day Test vertical leap or Broad Jump
Notice that there is enough variance for it not to get boring, but the main lifts are always in there. There is a different game or competition every day, but even the game is athletic. There is some assistance work that varies, which will make it fun as well.
The only hope that America has to improve their standings at the World level is to make the youth coaches of America better. One of my biggest goals for 2016 is to improve my youth program and what I have to offer them. I hope to do some things that I can pass along to all of you.
We can sit around and talk about getting better, or we can do something about it. I choose to do something about it. I hope that all of you will join me. Weightlifting is a wonderful and safe sport. Let’s show America how wonderful it is.