Coaching the Beginner (In the U.S.) by Travis Cooper

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Coaching the Beginner (In the U.S.)

Travis Cooper

Retention is the holy grail of success in weightlifting. In a country where a kid has so many choices of sports and activities to take part in, weightlifting must be fun to retain a lifter. In a culture where a kid or adult might decide not to come to weightlifting practice for various reasons how can you plan their training years in advance, much less weeks? A lifter in the US might go to the movies, stay out late, have a tough test, the list goes on… Because of unpredictable schedules, a program that is adjustable must be constructed. Adjustable means a program that auto-regulates to take advantage of days when the lifter is training well, and a program that auto-regulates for the bad days. The concept may not seem ideal, but this is the reality of societal norms within the U.S. So what is ideal in a utopian society is not necessarily what is ideal in our actual society.

The 80/20 rule states that at least 80% of the results come from 20% of the causes. In weightlifting, the causes would be training, and the results would be the weights of the maximum snatch and clean and jerk. Because of this truth, a three day a week program is appropriate for the beginner of any age. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday sells to a lifter easily due to the dogma that society places on training, stating that two or three days in a row would be dangerous. Start the lifter slow and keep them interested, because after all a lifter that trains one day a week for 10 years will be better than a lifter who quits and no longer competes.

For the beginner a coach must impart knowledge. A coach must be very attentive and teach the snatch and clean and jerk progressions properly. The coach then must enforce these techniques by watching every lift a new lifter performs. Since technique is of utmost importance, do not over analyze the sets and reps of a beginner.


A good rule of thumb is 10-15 reps in both the snatch and clean and jerk. Start at about 80% and do 2-4 reps. If they all look solid technically make small jumps until technique breaks down. At that point go back to 80%. This allows a lifter to test their limits (leaving the opportunity for a PR on any given day) if their technique holds, but also get a lot of reps at weights that they will execute the lifts properly. A beginner should execute about 85-90% of their lifts with very good form.

The lifter must miss in order to get better. If the lifter performs 10 perfect lifts every single session, that only means the lifter is not being pushed and is probably bored. Remember the word retention, and in order to retain the lifter they must see progress and test their limits to stay interested. Psychologically people naturally are not interested in things that are below their ability or above their ability, so you must allow them to stay within their ability. A good example is an adult reading a children’s book would be bored, but at the same time a child reading an adult book would be bored, however reading can be one of the most rewarding experiences if the book is within the reader’s comprehension range.

Taking these concepts a basic template would look as follows:

Monday Wednesday Friday
Sn (10-15)x1 (10-15)x1 (10-15)x1
C&J 10×1 10×1 10×1
Sq 3×5 (50-70%) 3×5(50-70%) 3×5 (50-70%)

Remember this template is for the beginner and is also adjustable, so you could vary the training from time to time to avoid boredom, but this is all that is necessary. Variations could include doing (5-7)x2 instead of a series of singles. (4-5)x3 instead of a series of singles. 3 sets of any rep range in squat. The sets and reps are not wholly important as long as each rep is given feedback by the coach, but to be honest the lifters at this level will make progress due to technical improvements so they should stay interested without much variation.

People who have never lifted weights before do not need to squat to their limits to make progress. Studies have shown that even at modest percentages beginners with minimal weightlifting experience make about the same amount of progress at modest percentages as they would with grind out percentages. This will change as the lifter has more experience, but for now start at modest percentages and start a slow linear progression until progress halts.

Flexibility must be fixed as a beginner. Feedback on the catch position is just as important as feedback on the pull. If the beginner cannot get in the correct catch position (in the snatch, clean, and jerk), modify the program to include flexibility exercises. If the beginner is young, the lifts should be sufficient over time to increase flexibility, but if the lifter is older some creativity might be in store.

Two Types of Beginners
Generally, two types of new lifters will enter the gym. One type does or has done multiple other sports throughout their life, and the other type is usually the couch potato. The first group will have done plenty of general preparation i.e. running, jumping, squatting, bench pressing, pressing. The second group may need some kind of general conditioning after the training session to build GPP. But remember find something that is fun, retention is key. Examples for groups include dodgeball, relay races, etc. Remember to be creative, and end the session with a group activity that everyone enjoys!

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