Getting Into Weightlifting – Part 1

So it goes.

We like to encourage the readers of this website to compete in something. It’s a safe way to take risks, it allows you to challenge yourself, it focuses your training (and makes it more fun), and it lets you learn about yourself. Since we want you to be strong, the initial competitive endeavors are the barbell sports; powerlifting and weightlifting.

Most of the people here gravitate towards powerlifting since that closely resembles their training: squats, presses, and deadlifts. Olympic weightlifting seems to be less popular. The biggest reason probably is that the lifts look difficult to learn and execute, especially without a coach.

Yes, the shit is hard to do without a coach. For some people, they will never be decently good because they are goofy athletes. But if you were athletic growing up, and you like lifting weights, then why not take a stab at Olympic weightlifting?

If you take a chance on weightlifting, then you should initially learn the movements from a decent coach. I suggest this because the ability to properly teach yourself complex movements is rare, and you don’t want to teach yourself a bunch of bad habits — they are harder for a coach to break than for the coach to teach you properly to begin with.

Finding a “decent coach” may be a task. Some of you will be limited to what is available to you locally or to your own resources to find a coach. My experience would suggest that you find a coach who takes mechanics into consideration. Rippetoe has taught me how to do the lifts and coach them (as he has with many people), and the way that he coaches lifting is derived from a mechanical analysis of the body’s anatomy. I have been coached briefly by Tommy Suggs, and he thinks in terms of efficiency (bar path being vertical, no wasted energy as a result of a non-vertical bar path, etc.). Here is a video of weightlifting legend Tommy Kono explaining how he teaches the snatch. I particularly found it interesting how he wanted the shoulders in front of the bar in the set-up position, which is contrary to what most coaches teach nowadays:

I like how Kono makes an attempt at validating some of the things he is teaching, even if one or two points are contradictory to what I have learned to teach. Having a reason based on analysis, even if it is faulty analysis, is better than teaching it because “that is how it has always been done”. I consider this particularly important; if it were me, I would use this as one of my qualifying factors in choosing a coach…assuming the luxury of choosing a coach was present.

Then there is all of the obvious shit you should look for in a coach; how you get along with them, what is their coaching style, what kind of experience do they have (higher level lifters or novices — some coaches are not very good at teaching a beginner), how patient they are, etc. I could write quite a bit on coaching and all of the considerations that go into doing it and receiving it, but it leaves the scope of this post — you’ll just have to learn what kind of approach works best for you.

This is, of course, more of an extensive list for the OCD-type person that takes all of this stuff into consideration. The majority of you just need to get your ass on a platform and learn the lifts from somebody. Get a working knowledge of how they work, what your body is supposed to be doing, and then you can start gaining the experience to make adjustments.

In the next few parts of this “Getting Into Weightlifting” series, I will talk about how you and your coach will program, what to expect in your learning process, and suggestions on how to proceed after that initial learning stage. If there are any of you who are experienced in this sport, feel free to add to what I have started in the comments section. More information from multiple sources will help prepare the beginner and experienced lifters alike.

People always like training montages — here is the Polish national team (get past the non-english intro and you will see some lifting):

35 thoughts on “Getting Into Weightlifting – Part 1

  1. Thanks 70sbig I already jumped into this sport. I found a veteran Oly coach. I”m 5”6″, growing into the 77 kg class, and I”d like to total 200 kg in competition by this summer.

  2. nice justin, was hoping you would brush upon this topic. Too bad we don”t have a lot of weightlifting coaches around here (the netherlands) so I have to teach it myself with the help of books and videos. Still not the best way to do it, though.

  3. Sounds like a good series. Every monday I do one of the olympic lifts, but living in the middle of nowhere coaching is not an option. So basicly i just researched some percentage based programming on the ol interwub, but it seems kind of shitty (4 week plans? 8 week plans? everyones got an opinion) Hopefully you can clear up some of that confusion.

  4. Hi Justin!

    I wish a had a coach when i decided to learn the olylifts last april,i had to use utube videos and Greg Everett”s book as learning tools.Still do,as i”m competing for a team way down south(300km),so i don”t have one on one coaching.
    Competing is also a way of learning,did my first last december and on January won the masters on my age group-35-39years old(no competitors beside me but the medal is welcome)
    If the coaching panorama is poor in a big country like the States ,it”s even worse here in Portugal,so we got to rely on several other sources of learning.
    I”ve been following your blog and Brent Kim”s blog also,with great interest.
    Stay Strong,stay 70”s big :)


  5. I”m lucky enough to have a good coach within a 45 minute drive of me (Marty Schnorf, among who”s pupils was ”84 Olympian and still American record-holder Curt White), so when I wanted to learn how to properly do the olympic lifts, I trained under him for a few months to learn the movements. I still incorporate them into my training, although my first love is powerlifting and so my training and meet schedule revolves around that. But if and when I feel I need a refresher, I can always go see Marty to make sure I”m doing things right.

  6. @ Kincain:

    If you live close to the Belgian border around North of the country, the Belgian weightlifting team trains in Ghent. They train with 5-6 people at a time and anyone can go and train with them. Tom Goegebuer(this guy:, our only internationally-ranked weightlifter who did very well at the olympics, trains there under his coach and father.

    I also believe you can get decent coaching by just joining a weightlifting federation in Holland. There are a few of those, I believe. Just search.

  7. hey justin,
    time permitted,how about video of you teaching the moves, i mean we come to 70s big for a reason, we like your style

    This isn’t the first time this has been asked. Maybe this will happen soon.


  8. Dan John lives lives in my city and coaches at a local high school. I””m going to do what I can to contact him and see if I can learn the olympic lifts from a great.

    That would be cool.


  9. Very cool post Justin. I””m looking forward to see your thoughts on programming for the Oly lifts while still increasing absolute strength with the basic lifts.

    I am not very good at the Oly lifts but I do like doing them. I have decided that until I can squat 500 pounds, I will not put too much emphasis on my tiny snatch.

    On saturday, Max cleaned 185 kg and passed out before he jerk it. The weight crashed down on him. He got up and tried again.

    I want to clarify that you were the one that said you had a tiny snatch.

    Max is damn strong. Good guy. Anybody near the Balboa area should look him up for coaching.


  10. Some wise words for are smaller fellas out there from Dave Tate:

    “The Oreo
    For the second time this week, I’m amazed at what people don’t know. This started Sunday in the gym. Somehow the topic of gaining weight and eating like crap came up. Bingo! I know all about this. And then Oreo’s came up.

    Today, I was talking to someone else about eating like crap (as you can see, I’m still eating like crap), and the same topic came up. So I decided that it was time to man up and educate these guys. So here is a lesson for everyone.

    First off, know the playing field.

    There are 45 cookies in a regular bag and 36 in a double­stuffed bag. How can you not know this one? This is basic stuff! This has been America”s most popular cookie since 1912, and many a great man has bulked up on these. The floral design on the cookie has 12 flowers per side. This is another one that kills me. How can you miss this when you’re putting away 45 in one shot?

    If every Oreo cookie ever made were stacked on top of each other, the pile would reach to the moon and back more than five times. If you can’t add a mile or two, you aren’t even in the game.

    The key is to pound the bag before your brain tells you that you’re full. Some will say this happens in 20 minutes. I say screw that! Try for a PR every time. This isn’t max effort stuff here. This is about nailing down the most calories in the shortest time possible.

    Rules of the Game

    1. Never pull the damn thing apart, and dunking is totally out of the question. I’m not even going to discuss why.

    2. Use a small glass to drink your milk. A bigger glass will cause too much fluid consumption too fast. This will fill you up before the bag is done.

    3. Kill one row right from the start. Just dig in and go. This is easy to do and can be thought of as the warm­up set, the first lap, the first go around, or whatever you like.

    4. Once the first row is done, poor a small glass of milk. Do not drink it. Not yet.

    5. Without delay, start on the next row. With each cookie, pop it in your month and bite it in half (while still in your mouth). Then take a sip of milk. Repeat this for each cookie in the second row. If done correctly, you will run out of milk at the same time that you kill the last cookie in row two.

    6. Next, wash your mouth out with water. Do not swallow the water. Rinse and spit just like at the dentist office, except this time you will be spitting black crap all over the bowl. Then repeat number five for the last row.

    7. If you’re good, you should be done in less than seven minutes. I would tell you my record, but this involves using the double­stuffed kind. I will give you this as a guide to go by:

    Elite: 4 minutes Masters: 5 minutes

    Class 1: 7 minutes

    Class 2: 10 minutes

    Class 3: 15 minutes

    Class 4: 20 minutes

    Class 5: 30 minutes

    This brings me to my next point. Stick with the single­ stuffed until you get a good carryover (weight gain) and move up in the ranks. You really should not embrace the double­ stuffed until you’re at least a Class 1 or Masters. Everyone wants to jump right into double ­stuffed way too fast. Embrace that you’re a novice, and the gains will come. Stick to the basics. It is how all the big boys did it.”

  11. One of the reasons I like WL over PL, and this may be a total pussy reason, is there is a lot more grace and composure and focus that goes with the mental toughness.

    Blasting As I Lay Dying while screaming before a max deadlift is pretty badass to me… But theres just something more badass watching Dimas, Sulemanoglu, Rezazedeh or Pisarenko gracefully, calmly approach the platform, stare out into the ground without making a sound, finding their moment of total focus on their job. Then getting under the bar and DOING their job

    I wouldn’t say that a powerlifter doesn’t have focus or lacks any ability to do their job, yet the mental demands are completely different. Small deviations in technique can create large changes in the mechanics of each lift. I will probably talk about this at some point.


  12. Would it be recommended for those still smack in the middle of SS novice linear progression to experiment with O-lifts? If we””re already doing power cleans, would it make sense to start initially with clean and jerks? I””m still looking forward to my first PL meet later this year, but would like to put some time into this area as well, though without detriment to strength gains and recovery. Thanks for posting this.

    I usually think that novices need to wait until they aren’t novices anymore, but it depends. It would depend mostly on how well the initial barbell movements are executed, and a coach would need to decide this. If you decide to do it anyway, then I would do one a week. In my linear progression I power snatched, deadlifted, and power cleaned on M/W/F, and this overtrained my back, so I wouldn’t recommend it. I did not jerk in the linear progression.


  13. The best piece of advice I ever received in regards to the Olympic lifts was that nothing can replace competition. Even if your goals don””t necessarily involve competing in OL at a high level, there is a ton you will learn by stepping on the platform. You will be better at performing the lifts, coaching the lifts, and understanding the process of improving the lifts so much more when you test yourself this way. I had coached the lifts to athletes, used books and videos, and even got my Club Coach, and thought I had a good handle on things. I learned a ton more in 6 months where I competed in 3 meets then in the 2.5 years prior.

    IMO, find a meet about 3 months always, and spend the next 12 weeks working to improve your total (ideally with a coach), then do it again a few months later. Another benefit of a meet, is you also get to spend several hours with like minded people, talking about the lifts, training, etc. It is just fun to compete, which is often very overlooked.

    My experience would lead to different results. Competing is fun and you meet like-minded people, but competition has not helped me become a better coach (aside from being a platform coach at a competition) nor has it helped me become better at the lifts. This is just my experience, and I think that is heavily dependent on how I have gained all of my experience from coaching with and getting coached by Rippetoe.


  14. Good timing on this little series Justin. I actually just yesterday contacted a USAW coach about learning the 2 lifts. I”ll be interested to see how you guys program these in. I still plan on focusing on powerlifting for a while until I reach some personal goals, but would love to compete in weightlifting down the road.

  15. Alright, I”m about convinced. Who is the person in Virginia to talk to about competing? I”m really weak right now, but if I shoot for something 3-6 months out that would be good motivation and a nice way to meet some people.

  16. kittensmash, if you contacted a guy other than John Thrush, contact John Thrush. He coaches down in Sumner, so it is a drive, but he is excellent. He coached Melanie Roach who has a bunch of American records and went to the Olympics. They have a very strong weightlifting team down there.

  17. I”d like to do more Olympic lifts but my gym lacks any bumper plates. Setting the weights down worked for a while with power cleans but around 180 lbs it started to really mess up my shoulder. It would leave it aching for up to a week after a training session, in a way that screamed I would be asking for injury in the long-run if I didn”t stop. If someday I can get get access to bumper plates I”ll definitely start doing some Oly lifts again, since PCs are so fun.

  18. Justin-

    Good points, but by “competing”, I guess I am really referring to the journey up to the competition. From a coaching perspective, knowing the frustration of missing a weight that you easily doubled the week before, what changes to make in training to be able to finish a workout because your shoulder is sore, or figuring out how to explain the correct body position to an athlete are all really improved (IMO) when you go through the journey. The competition, is just something to signify the end of the journey.

    Wells might be able to give on some insight into my opinion. I was never a great lifter, but was a good coach, because I always really understood the process of improving.

    I see what you are saying.


  19. I may drive down from OKC to watch the Bill Starr Memorial. Is anybody here gonna be in that?

    I am, as well as a few lifters from the gym.


  20. Bill Starr passed away? I hadn”t heard. Very sad, I will have to think of a way to honor him here in California with some of the other guys I train with who also learned a lot from his writings.

  21. Oh phew, that”s good. I was frantically searching the internet for news of his passing and also saw that he was apparently quite active up until the end!

  22. So not really related to today”s post but cool none the less. I had to go to the doc today. The nurse ( a good lookin”) one looked at me and said, I don”t think the regular blood pressure cuff will fit. Then she asked if I worked out, I grinned and said “70s big.” She smiled, but had kind of a funny look on her face.

  23. Mr. Starr is not dead, he is in Maryland.

    Sense of humor people.

    Captain Ronn, if you are coming you might as well load. Loaders get prizes. Let me know. twitch47 at yahoo.

  24. Nice post Justin. I”d like to eventually go into OL. Currently, my motivation to lift is to eventually use the working weight of the person who lifted before me, as a warm up set; thereby, both boosting my moral, and stomping on their spirit. But that only takes you so far, so I”d be nice to train for something like Olympic weightlifting. Brent listed a couple places in my area that had platforms, so I”ll give them a look around soon.

  25. @Leeuwer

    thanks, there is a good coach in Amsterdam were I should go and have a look but I haven”t considered Belgium, although it would be a long drive :)

  26. Pingback: » Your First Weightlifting Meet – Part 1

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