You know the feeling; You rushed around all day, you finally got to the gym, and you need to workout but you only have 40 minutes. How are you going to squeeze in a full training session? If you’re like most people, you likely do at least one of these things; Work full time, go to class, run errands, pay bills, and take care of kids or pets. As a result, it can leave limited time to workout even on the best of days. If you are a beginner to the sport of weightlifting, or even an advanced athlete, you are presented with so many options you may not have a clear strategy on what to do with your limited time. This post should help you break down what you should be doing and why.
First thing you need to address is what the purpose of your training is. If you're a weightlifter, it stands to reason that your goal is to improve your snatch and clean & jerk. So in what ways can we physiologically improve our performance?
Increase your efficiency and movement patterns by practicing the lifts
Improve neurological pathways for the movement, and improve coordination in competitive movements.
Improve your overall strength, i.e., the ability to push, pull, and squat
Improve GPP through conditioning and changes in body composition
Build peak power though high intensity, low volume rep work with various exercises.
Improve your your ability to handle and consolidate stressors in your life
Improve your recovery techniques, including nutrition, myofascial release, and sleep
There are so many way we can get better, but every way is not appropriate for every skill level or even every training cycle. So, as a beginner what should be the highest focus for your training sessions? What should be your only focus on shorter days? For beginners it is simple. You should work on the competitive lifts, or a variation of them, every single chance you get. While strength gains and peak power improvements are nice, if you cannot effectively move the barbell the entire way through the snatch, all the added power in the world won’t give you those break-through PRs you’re looking for.
If you've ever wondered why the strongest guys in your gym look so polished and smooth, even when taking max effort lifts, it is because of the thousands of attempts before. Your body will improve its ability to perform a task by improving neurological efficiency as you practice it, but you must practice it. Every repetition you take is building neural connections between your muscles and your brain. So, as a beginner, every time you grab the bar and perform a snatch you are working to improve your efficiency and neurological connection to the bar and your muscles. It takes years of training for you to be automatic with your movements, so make sure you take advantage of every rep you have.
A lot of us see how strong the world’s best weightlifters are, and think they can clean or snatch so much because they can squat so much. That’s not wrong, but it’s not exactly right either. There is good reason that everyone sees how strong the world’s best weightlifters are, there are 48kg women around the world who can outlift some college football players. But the development of strength takes a back seat to movement proficiency for these elite athletes. This is for a couple of reasons; First, they understand that the better they move, the more they will lift. Second, development of that kind of strength (squatting triple body weight) takes far longer than the neurological adaptation it takes to become proficient at the olympic lifts. For the world’s best, strength is only increased once movement proficiency is at the level they need it to be. Don’t think you are somehow in a different category than the world’s best. You aren’t.
This doesn’t mean you have to strictly stick to snatch singles or clean and jerk singles while waiting 3 minutes in between each rep. It simply means you should be practicing at least some form of the competitive movements each day. Whether it is a pull to the pocket, a snatch balance, or a jerk from the blocks, as long as your are developing some portion of the movement you will continue to make progress every day.
So the next time you walk into the gym with only 30 minutes and you have the option of light percentage work in the olympic lifts or heavy deadlifts, choose the olympic work. As beginners, you must make sure you don't fall into the trap of choosing the heavier movement, or the movement you like more. Choose the movement that will push you in the right direction.