Pendlay’s Weightlifting Programming Tips

Glenn Pendlay of MDUSA recently wrote a pair of articles titles, “How to write an Olympic weightlifting program” (Part 1 and Part 2). They are a good review of the basic principles for Olympic weightlifting. Believe it or not, many weightlifters get away from this foundation.

For example, there are assholes online who pose as weightlifting “experts” just because they trained with some random Chinese coach for a month. This means they “understand the Chinese weightlifting” system and miraculously gained the aptitude to teach it. Whatever the FUCK that means.

Anyway, I prefer Pendlay’s approach to weightlifting because he does it like a Socratic student who acknowledges there is plenty to learn.

“When you know a thing, to hold that you know it, and when you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it, is knowledge.”


“…surely it is the most blameworthy ignorance to believe that one knows what one does not know.”

Personally, I don’t think Pendlay needs to approach it this way; he could get away with being an asshole about what he knows. But that’s not his style because he honestly still learns stuff every day; I like that. Let’s highlight some of the lessons from his two-part article.

Part 1 concerns itself with snatching, clean and jerking, and squatting. Again, read the Pendlay’s articles for his explanation and reasoning, but it’s good that he took the time to point this out. So many people will watch videos of successful international lifters and decide to emulate them. Monkey see, monkey doo doo in their singlet. I wrote about this concept in a triumphant “I proved my point because you’ll click on anything that says sex and shows a bit of T&A” post, “Sexy Isn’t Always Better.”

Part 2 actually provides enough information for a weightlifter to program his training for several years. He points out how weightlifting success selects certain training principles: not doing anything greater than triples on the Olympic lifts, typically not squatting prior to the lifts, and organizing them effectively throughout the week. But one of the things I like the most about Pendlay’s message is:

Keep a workout log, and take good notes. When you change your program, try to change one thing at a time, and give the change a reasonable amount of time to work before you abandon it. Approach things in a systematic way, and with every week and every success and failure you will add to your knowledge of how your body reacts to training and what you need to do to snatch more and clean and jerk more.

This may even sound painfully obvious to some of you, but I’d be willing to bet that you recently waffled your way through what was supposed to be a systemic approach to programming. Most of you guys just want to be told what to do — JUST GIVE ME A PROGRAM.

Read Glenn’s articles, particularly Part 2, and you’ll walk away with a good vision of a quality weightlifting program. Lift heavy, but vary your work load throughout the week. Accumulate work above 80%. Reserve sessions later in the week for maximal attempts. Pick a rep scheme, whether it be singles, doubles, or triples, and try to push it for 4 to 8 weeks. Once you start to stall on one scheme, transition to the next (exhaust triples, then move to doubles). Once you do go through this cycle a few times, vary the sessions in a week. Doubles on Monday, triples on Wednesday, and then maximal stuff on Friday? Sounds like a plan — but the point is to have a plan. Like Glenn said, “Remember that success in weightlifting is defined by snatching and clean and jerking more. It is not defined by having a huge squat or carrying an impressive workload in training” or by doing a bunch of random exercises. Pay attention to guys that simplify programming. Listening to them will help you more than a fool keyboard warrior claiming secret Chinese knowledge.

20 thoughts on “Pendlay’s Weightlifting Programming Tips

  1. “Pay attention to guys that simplify programming. Listening to them will help you more than a fool keyboard warrior claiming secret Chinese knowledge.”

    Gems right here.

    Jim Steel’s programs come to mind as well. I’ve seen the most progress/carryover from the simplest stuff. Nobody wants to major in the minors.

    • How do you feel about Pendlay’s beginner weightlifting program btw? In your most recent olympic lifting template you say after a while of doing the olympic lifts twice a week that one would move onto 3 times a week. Would this program be that next step?

    • Thanks Gene.

      I have had quite a few questions via FB and email (don’t know why people are hesitant to post on the blog) which I plan to address in a Part III.

      Obviously any questions from this community are welcome.


  2. I must say Glenn is an amazing human. Not because of his actual knowledge, ability, and success. But for the sheer fact the man waste no words, and seeks no arguments for attention.

    If only everyone in strength sports were like you Glenn we would actually all be better off.


  3. I would really like to hear Glenn either sing or do some spoken word poetry. Maybe he could even just record himself reading the allegory of the cave. I’m always more impressed by his deep, resonant voice than by the lifters in his videos. The timbre somewhere between James Bond Villain and Darth Vader.

    • Not embarrassing if you’re a beginner. A conventional deadlift is different from a clean or snatch pull as well as a clean or snatch deadlift. Typically “deadlift” indicates a conventional deadlift.

      A clean/snatch pull typically has a shrug or some type of extension at the very top of the movement (bar near high hang). Clean/snatch deadlift is the same except omitting this additional movement at the top of the lift.

      Five major differences of these movements from the conventional deadlift is: setup (hips usually much lower than in deadlift); shoulders (though shoulders may start over the bar, exactly above or even behind during a clean/snatch pull, eventually the shoulders get out over the bar when it as at the knee, and there is a conscious effort of the lifter to keep the shoulders over for as long as possible during the pull. in the conventional deadlift this is not the case); knees back hard off the floor (pushing the knees back allows the bar to sweep in and loads the hamstrings for additional power); back must be arched and held ramrod tight throughout, very little break in form should be allowed. this plays in to the last difference: the goal of the movement. the goal of a snatch/clean pull is to assist you with strengthening positions, reinforce correct mechanics with heavy weights while not having to worry about the pull-under or catch, and to assist with generating horsepower. many coaches emphasize not using much more than 110% of your max clean or snatch for pulls. contrast this with a conventional deadlift where the ultimate goal is to lift the most weight from the floor.

  4. Can anyone tell me how to implement power cleans on TM? I don’t have time for a fourth day and doing them on volume day seems tough. Can they be done for 5 doubles on recovery?

    • I haven’t found a way to do heavy power cleans in TM, but I do power cleans with light or medium weight either at the end of intensity day or light day. Need to be careful not to do too much on light day. I find that if I wait a good ten imnutes or so after deadlifting on intensity day I can do some power cleans.

      • What’s the issue with using power cleans as a warm-up on TM? Probably not wise to perform multiple singles at your heaviest attempts, but would working to a quick max then going into your squatting probably be too detrimental since the power clean has barely any eccentric portion?

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  6. I’m lifting weights with a similar routine, practicing snatches and clean & jerks, followed by front or back squats and military presses, for rugby. I fool around with some Crossfit nonsense, too, to stay in shape.

    I think it’s very good advice for powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters, as well as contact-sports athletes, to practice lifts from both weight-related sports. I think that a lot of strength hobbyists practice the 3 powerlifts without having any intention of competing and get discouraged or bored. Without the motivation of competition, it’s easy to slack off and therefore harder to see any real fruits from your labors.

    I think it’s great that non-powerlifters want to make themseves stronger and more capable human beings by practicing the powerlifts. At the same time, hobbyists need to to recognize what they’re really doing for what it is, and that is going to the gym in their off-time. Like basketballers getting together on the neighborhood court a few times a week.

    I’m a weightlifting hobbyist; my real priorities are my job and my family and I make the time for the gym in between. I’d like to be stronger and fitter because I play rugby in an amateur club, but I mostly do it for fun and for the keg parties afterward. Competitive powerlifters should be afraid of disrupting their recovery with things like Olympic-style weightlifting or Crossfit run-arounds. But hobbyists will probably never experience real over-training syndrome and they shouldn’t be afraid of doing extra things to keep in shape, even if they’re subscribing to some sort of linear progression or periodization program.

    That’s why all the smart programs have a reset when a lifter stalls. And why should a hobbyist be afraid of a reset or a stall? Unless you make your money lifting the heaviest weights you possibly can, who’s going to slap you on the hand for stalling?

    I don’t know where I’m going with this rant anymore. But try weightlifting. Even if you’re in your third-and-a-half week of your fifth-and-a-half phase of your second-and-a-half cycle. Odds are that your boss won’t fire you, your wife won’t leave you, and your parents won’t disown you for it.

    To quote David Spitz, owner of California Strength: “The phasic nature of the lifts maximize intramuscular coordination and require strength in balanced proportions across various muscle groups. The full range of the movements force the athlete to maximize joint mobility and dynamic flexibility. The ballistic aspect of the lifts teach the athlete to maximize power from the ground in order to apply force on the bar and finally, the courage to pull oneself under the bar incorporates high levels of discipline and mental strength.”

    You hear that last line? “High levels of discipline and mental strength”. If you were born any time in the last half-century then those are probably things you could use more of, whether you’re a hobbyist or a professional, inside and outside the gym.

    Oh, and I have a question: I’m 6’2″ with long legs and a not-very-impressive squat, but I naturally tend to go into a power or squat jerk instead of a split. I don’t know why but it feels a lot more natural. Any attempt to split turns into a Kendirck Farris-like “splat”. Do you think it would be a better idea to force the split or reinforce the squat jerk with more squat/overhead squat/shoulder training?

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