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Training for Competitive Weightlifting as a Masters Athlete

The following is a description of how I’ve approached training for competitive weightlifting as a masters athlete.  This approach has worked well during my late 30’s and early 40’s. At some point, it will need to be adjusted again in order to accommodate additional aging. Each of us will respond differently to training, I don’t assume this to be the answer for all masters athletes.

Volume and Intensity

As a masters athlete, I’ve found that training 3 days a week, 3 exercises per session is about the right mix.

In addition to monitoring training volume, it is critical to control training intensity. Take pleasure in excellent movement. Big weights will follow. It doesn’t work the other way around.

Most of your work should be in the 70-90% range. Your average training load should be around 80%.  After a significant base has been built working with 80%, training at 85% seems to be an effective intensity. Speed and consistency are the primary focus. After you’re conditioned and moving those weights smoothly, very rarely missing a lift, then you can build up. As a masters athlete, I’ve found that I don’t need to train much in excess of 90% in order to be prepared for a meet (younger athletes generally can and need to train heavier). It seems that a lack of confidence often causes athletes to lift too heavy in preparation for meets. You can either take the big lifts in training or in meets.

My objective is always to have zero misses in training.

Program Structure

I like to play with program structure (which lifts on which days) depending on how I’m feeling and moving. Some general guidelines for frequency of lifts:

The lifts may shift throughout the week as the cycle progresses.

Snatch: 1-2 x per week. (Usually one heavy and one moderate, or one power and one full.)

Clean & Jerk: 1 x per week. I’ll usually start a cycle performing the clean separately from the jerk. As the competition gets closer, I’ll combine them.

Pulls: 2-3 x per week. I like to mix up the competition lift and the pull in a training session. If I clean, I’ll usually perform snatch pulls and if I snatch, I’ll perform clean pulls.

This provides regular exposure to the movement patterns of both lifts. If you train more frequently, you may be better off doing the same pull and competition lift, in one training session.

Squat: 1-2 x per week. Usually one back and one front. If you’re feeling beat up, drop one of the squat days. Also, consider how much squatting you’re doing in an entire training session. If your session has snatches, cleans, and squats, all that adds up to a lot of squatting. Try to distribute your lifts across the week in a way that balances the amount of work any one part of your body is doing. I’ll usually do my last heavy back squat 10 days out from a meet. If I’m using front squats in a cycle, the last heavy session will be about 7 days out. There is no need to max squats prior to a meet.

Push Press: 1-2 x a week. Early in a cycle, I may push press twice a week. As the competition gets closer, I switch one of the days to jerks.

Power Clean & Power Snatch: 1 x a week, if at all. These are another exercise that I use less often as the meet gets closer. When I do incorporate them, I really like to combine power cleans with push presses.

The following are some of the assistance exercises and complexes that I like to include in training:

Snatch
Pause Snatch (:02 below the knee)
Slow Snatch Pull (:05 to the hip)
Deficit Snatch Pull
1 Snatch + 1 Drop Snatch
1 Snatch Pull + 1 Snatch + 1 Overhead Squat
1 Power Snatch + 1 Snatch

Clean & Jerk
CleanJerk (move straight from the clean recovery into the jerk)
2 Power Cleans+ 2 Push Presses
2 Cleans + 2 Jerks
3 Front Squats & 3 Jerks
1 Clean + 1 Front Squat + 1 Jerk
1 Clean + 1 Hang Clean + 1 Jerk

Pause Jerk (:02 in the dip)
1 Push Press + 1 Pause Jerk + 1 Jerk

A week at the start of a cycle may look like this:

(Percentages are based off of a current 1RM in the exercise they pertain to. In the case of a complex, base your percentage off of the weakest lift)

Monday
Snatch
70% 2×3 (2 sets of 3 reps)
75% 3×2

Clean Pull
100% 4×3

Back Squat
70% 4×4

————–

Wednesday
Power Clean + Push Press
70% 2(2+2) (2 sets of 2PC followed by 2PP)
75% 2(2+2)

Jerk
70% 2×3
75% 3×2

Snatch Pull
90% 2×3
100% 3×2

————

Friday
Power Snatch
70% 2×3
75% 3×2

Clean
70% 2×3
75% 3×2

Front Squat
70% 4×4

Progressively build intensity and decrease reps based off of this starting point. If you struggle with an exercise at a particular intensity, there’s nothing wrong with repeating the same intensity the following week until it’s smooth and clean. Do not grind out lifts.

A month down the road, a week may look like this:

Monday
Snatch
70% 2×2
75% 1×2
80% 2×1
85% 3×1

Clean Pull
100% 2×3
+10kg 3×2

Back Squat
75% 1×3
80% 2×2
85% 3×1

—————

Wednesday
Pause Jerk (:02 in Dip)
75% 1×3
80% 2×2
85% 3×1

Power Clean
75% 1×3
80% 2×2
85% 3×1

Push Press
75% 1×3
80% 2×2
85% 3×1

————–

Friday
Clean + Jerk
70% 2+2
75% 2+1
80% 2(1+1)
85% 3(1+1)

Snatch Pull
100% 2×3
+10kg 3×2

Front Squat
75% 1×3
80% 2×2
85% 3×1

A good rule of thumb for training on the week of a meet is: competition lifts for singles up to 80% on Monday, and competition lifts for singles up to 60% on Wednesday. (This is something that I picked up from Matt Foreman.)

Rest is when the magic happens.

August Schmidt
-Bachelor of Science, Auburn University 1997
-Master of Education, Northern Arizona University 2005
-National Strength & Conditioning Association, CSCS 2000 (not current)
-USA Weightlifting Club Coach 2001
-CrossFit Level 1 Instructor 2009
-USA Weightlifting National Coach 2012
-EVCF Regional Team Coach 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017
-EVCF CrossFit Games Team Coach 2014
-Masters National Record Holder: Snatch 130kg & Total 287kg (105kg 40-44)
-5 x American Masters Weightlifting Champion
-5 x American Masters – Best Lifter (2 x 35-39yrs, 3 x 40-44yrs)
-3 x Masters Nationals Weightlifting Runner-up
-President of Arizona Weightlifting Federation – LWC 48, 2016-current

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