This isn’t a program for true beginners.
A true beginner would be my dream scenario, a young talented athlete that wants to pursue weightlifting, one with very little training, but untapped athleticism. I don’t get many of those. In the US we don’t get many of those at all.
Instead, i get a lot of “technical” beginners. I get athletes and individuals that know what the lifts are, have done them, and have done them with sub-standard technique. That was exactly the stage from which I began weightlifting over 18 years ago. I had done a power clean, but it wasn’t particularly good.
Technical beginners are the high school football players, volleyball players, and gymnasts that transition to weightlifting, they are definitely most CrossFit athletes that I get to work with. Specifically these athletes have some level of strength already, they are possibly very strong and good at some aspects of weightlifting, but just don’t know how to translate that strength to movement on the platform.
Technical beginners have some level of strength already at their disposal, they probably have a decent squat, or pull, or even a power clean. They also are “not very good” at some common things. By taking a look at what these athletes are deficient in and where they have some strengths we can design a weightlifting program for beginners.
Good at squatting
Many of these athletes can put up respectable squat numbers. Mobility might be a concern, but usually their squat is strong enough that it is out of whack with their clean and jerk and snatch. I typically go by the 85% rule, meaning your front squat is 85% of your back squat, your clean and jerk is 85% of your front squat, and your snatch is 85% of your clean and jerk (you can read more about that HERE). There are definitely more accurate ratios, but that is a good rule of thumb and easy to remember.
Good at power cleans
These athletes are typically “good” at power cleans. Not technically, but they can put up decent weight. The most accurate way to put it is that these athletes can rip the hell out of the bar and pull it really high. In other words, the speed of the second pull isn’t a real issue, racking it might be, and the receiving position almost certainly is.
Good at hang positions
Often times technical beginners are pretty good at hang positions, they can hang clean or hang snatch quite a bit more than they can pull from the ground (we’ll get to why that is in a second). Sometimes this ability to produce power in the hang clean or snatch can come at the expense of the actual good positions: shins vertical, feet flat, chest over the bar, bar tight to the legs.
Not very good at pulling from the ground
While some of these athletes CAN pull from the ground and can pull big weights from the ground, their start position and/or first pull are usually out of whack. Those that have good positions above the knee usually have a difficult time connecting their floor position to the hang position through an effective first pull.
The primary way that we are going to correct this is to program pull to stop above the knee, or pulls with pauses above the knee (here’s a good article about the importance of pauses above the knee http://yashathoughts.com/rigidity/). As a coach I will stop any reps that don’t have the proper push and sweep that we want to see.
(This video talks a little bit about the idea of pushing from the ground: Watch it HERE
Not very good at getting under the bar
Beginners are not very good at getting under the bar, it’s probably years of power cleans or ground to chest/overhead. Moving under the bar is part of the skill set we must develop. The primary way to do this is to clean and snatch from high hang positions (shorter pulls so we can decrease the weight used) and focusing on getting under. Movements like snatch balances will also help.
Not very good at overhead position
Some beginner athletes have difficulty getting in the overhead position to begin with, or they do a poor job of being active in the overhead positions.
This can be due to a lack of familiarity in the position, in which case, snatch push presses, overhead squats and snatch balances are great for correction.
This can also be an issue that is caused by lack of mobility. If this is the case then the beginner must work on handstand positions, and general thoracic/shoulder mobility work.
Not very good at jerks
Jerks can be an issue for even some of the most seasoned weightlifters and the beginner is no exception. These athletes typically have had enough reps of the clean without having to do a jerk that the timing, strength, and technique to jerk weights near their best clean becomes very difficult.
Increasing the volume of overhead work, from push presses, power jerks, split jerks, and jerks will help, but developing the balance and positioning for a good jerk will be the best thing to do for these athletes. Selecting exercises like Jerks + OH Split Squats is a great idea for these programs.
Two recently added weightlifters to the Force roster fit this model exactly. One came from a football background and the other a CrossFit background. Our primary focus has been on developing skills, while accentuating their strengths. Both had really bad snatches to start with, and no jerk to speak of, incredible squats, but power cleaned decent weights (140 as a 105, and 110 as a 77). In the 4-6 weeks we have been working together both have learned to snatch, learned to jerk, and can finally get under the bar (one even qualified for University Nationals in his first meet with a 105/150, and cleaned 175).
This is a real program, not a theoretical one. We have actually used this and it works.
The Program for Technical Beginners
Some quick thoughts about this program.
We run this for 4 weeks at a time, with not much adjustment to the percentages, maybe bumping 2-5% per week where possible, and look to see the big improvements on the “RM” sets.
On the RM sets, you are working up to a daily best, being that these are technical beginners it will be like creeping up, so you should get lots of volume in those movements.
I should also note that, we want technically perfect reps, and even though I note a 2RM, it is truly a 2 rep max for a REAL snatch, don’t revert back to the power snatch or power clean.
I didn’t mention the purpose of these but there are some squats with long pauses in this program. I got that idea from Justin Thacker, but it is perfect for someone with some soft tissue (other restrictions are a completely different story) mobility restrictions or the technical beginner that likes to squat a little high for the sake of lifting more weight. No one will squat high when you make them pause for 10s.
|A||Snatch From HIp||40||1||5|
|B||Snatch W/ Pause above knee (2s)||2RM||x||2|
|C||Snatch Pull Pause at Knee (6s)||80||1||3|
|D||Snatch Push Press + OH squat||50||1||4+1|
|A||Press From Split||40||1||5|
|C||Clean w/ Pause above Knee||1RM||x||1|
|A||Snatch Push Press||40||1||3|
|B||Snatch + OHS||2+2RM||x||2+2|
|C||Snatch High Pull from above knee||90||3||3|
|A||Jerk +OH Split Squat||50 -60||3||3|
|B||Clean and Jerk||60||1||3+3|
|C||Back Squat 3s pause||3RM||x||x|
|D||Back Squat 10s pause||1RM||x||x|
|E||Clean from Hip||60||1||3|