5 weightlifting lessons from 2014 : Implications for training, competing and reaching high results

Credit Hookgrip
Credit Hookgrip

Better late than never…Happy new year to everybody! For me, 2014 has been crazy with experiences, athlete recruitment, athlete development, programming and travelling for competition and a few seminars. Looking back, it was a great year for myself and for weightlifting generally. Of course, I haven’t been able to post as regularly on here due to all those hours I spent in the gym coaching. Working with so many people, so many different age groups and so many different personnalities, I feel like I bettered myself as a coach. Methodologies are not fixed and learning how to adapt your approach to get your point across is necessary and takes trial and errors (Humans are indeniably biologically different). Here are 5 things that I either learned, dealt with or paid more attention to during last year cycle.  I feel like they are good lessons and might change your training, your results and the outcome of your competition.

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1. Athletes should be athletes and coaches should be coaches

I have written some really in depth articles about technique and I still do. I love writing these articles and I think detailed articles containing research and lots of information are the best read (especially if you are a coach). The more educated you are, the better you will be at facing challenges.

However, there is a time to learn everything. Learning is done through stages – from simple tasks to very complicated tasks. Some people tend to learn information much faster than they can actually integrate in their own training. They are just not there physically or skill-wise. I have had many beginner athletes – who are pretty smart – get so confused from listening to other coaches or reading very detailed information and trying to incorporate it all at once.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I think everybody needs to learn as much as they can about the movements. I am a firm believer in this and I think the information I put out is reflective of that. However, as an athlete, you need to buy into your coach’s methodology, trust his coaching eye and approach and let him/her think for you. If you feel like you have learned something relevant or helpful, then try to integrate it slowly and through stages. You can’t think of 300 tiny and precise details when lifting. That’s why, we as coaches, use a cue word to get the most bang for the buck effect.

Credit Hookgrip
Credit Hookgrip

2. Confidence is key when lifting but also when coaching

I have seen so many athletes miss bars because they had a temporary lack of confidence in their ability. This can be due to the athlete but also to the coach. I have also seen coaches who were so not confident in their ability – or the way they speak and behave make us think they doubt themselves. When your athlete is going to try for a PR, you have to appear confident that it will happen without a doubt. If you are doubting your decision, then don’t make the athlete try that weight.

I have used many strategies to build confidence in my athletes. Two strategies have been really helpful. At a first competition, I have made many of my stressed out athletes do their first attempts in the back before doing it on the plateform. I chose lighter first attempts. I even did that with a 63kg female lifters with a max of 76kg in the snatch. She made 70 in the back, and a few minutes later she made it again on the plateform. Purists won’t like this strategy, but what matters for big results is the right feeling and confidence.

The second strategy I have used is even simpler. Confidence is built when you feel like you are in control. So, I just give more control to some of my athletes over weight selection. I ask them what they think they can hit without missing and if it’s realistic I let them make it. A coach is a guide and a teacher – Not a practitioner. Thus while we may say certain lifts looked easy, we did not make it so we don’t know how it felt and what went through the athlete’s mind. Give them a bit (Read : NOT ALL) of control and confidence will be built over them as they get to know themselves better.

Credit Hookgrip
Credit Hookgrip

3. It is easier to coach kids and teens than it is to coach adults.

Weightlifting seems to be a bit more popular and we are seeing a lot of 23-30 years old people walking in our gym to start lifting. Being 23-30 years old means you probably work or study and have a ton of responsibilities. You can’t expect big results in this sport if you don’t have the lifestyle for it. You need to keep your stress level low, sleep well, eat well and not party. You also need a lot of passion and dedication.

It is your responsibility to come in the gym rested and ready to train. No elite coach or amazing programming will make you progress if you are tired all the time or if you don’t take this sport seriously. Sure, you need to study and work – we all do. That being said, it is your responsibility to not miss training and not be involved in drama that prevent you from being productive. I have seen that way too often. Also, even though you are older than kid athletes, you are still a beginner and that’s why you have to go through technique sessions over and over.

In contrasts, my kids athlete are some of the most dedicated and passionate lifters there is. For instance, I have a 13 year old that comes in 30 minutes in advance just to watch the older athletes while eating a snack to have enough energy to train. I have a 9 years old girl who snatch the broomstick at home in her room because she says she needs to practice. I have a 9 year old who wants to lift so much that he always want to do 2-3 sets more and I have to move the bar away just so we can keep up with the training (move on).

I have a 17 years old female lifter who never miss a training session, always come in way too early because she cannot wait to train, does all her stretches at home. During the holiday, she trained using her father’s weight although she did not know how much the bar weighted. It is easier to behave like that when you are young due to the lack of responsibilities – but as an adult, behaving like that is key for success.

Credit Hookgrip
Credit Hookgrip

4. Many lifters are not in good enough shape to be successful in tougher competitions

There is no other way around it – You need a good GPP base to be able to sustain hard trainings and to be good in competition that don’t go as planned. In competition, sometimes you have to slow down your warm up or rush through it. Sometimes you need to keep hitting the same bar in the back because the competition has stalled.

Lifters trained on high intensity and low volume do badly in those conditions. If you are well trained – which means you have done what you should have been doing when you started- then you should be OK. The first three years of training should be centered mostly around GPP and skill work. Singles don’t cut it. You need to train in a way that make you adapt to higher work loads so that you don’t get tired as easily. Training variables can be manipulated to improve this : Shorter resting time, higher repetition work, gruelling complexes, and more. By the way, training this way also make the athlete much tougher mentally which is a prerequisite for success in this sport.

Credit hookgrip
Credit hookgrip

5. Lifters that don’t use pulls are lifters with weak backs and they can’t stay over the bar

Pulls are so important in the training of weightlifters. Most lifters have extremely strong quadriceps and exceptionally weak backs, glutes and hamstrings. They will never be able to use all the power of their legs because they will always be limited by their weakness in their posterior chain. Squatting is not just quadriceps action, it is a full body action and everything needs to be balanced and strong. I have seen many lifters who can squat 20-30kg more than they could pull. Not a good ratio!

In weightlifting, for the most of the lifts, the posterior chain works isometrically until it is time to explode. It is certainly the case during the first pull. Yet, people with weak backs will often use a style with a more vertical torso to try and place the load on the quadriceps rather than on their back and this results in a lot of barbell trajectory deviations. If not, they will disengage their back from the lifts and not stay over the bar when they should have (at key point in the lifts).  I don’t understand why people think pulls would not correct this or help strengthen the muscles that will prevent the lifters from doing these mistakes.

Also worthy of note, a good pulling cycle consisting of heavier-than-usual pulls should precede a good squat cycle. This reduce chances on injuries in the back and helps with keeping the torso straight and tight during squatting.

Don’t miss out on Updates : Make sure you follow First Pull on Facebook and Instagram for daily pictures and advice.

Jean-Patrick Millette

Jean-Patrick Millette is a full time weightlifting coach located in Montreal, Canada. He has a bachelor in kinesiology. He coaches dedicated weightlifters of all ages (Youth to senior) as well as running the well respected First Pull website. He has been very active at promoting the sport of weightlifting.


  • “5. Lifters that don’t use pulls are lifters with weak backs and they can’t stay over the bar” I think that you should write an article only about this topic, since the rise of the Bulgarians in the 80’s many coaches began to question the usage of pulls in training.
    Happy new year for everyone in firstpull.

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