4 Pillars of Weightlifting

olympic weightlifting
Albert Einstein once said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Although Einstein was busy trying to solve some of the biggest mysteries of the universe, this quote directly applies to the sport of Olympic Weightlifting. Over the course of my career, I have noticed that a lot of coaches and athletes fall victim to one of two things…

The first thing is that they over-complicate their training.

With all of the information available today (both good and bad), it is no surprise that many people get lost trying to see where it all fits within the bigger picture. They try to incorporate too many inputs from too many places and eventually end up with an incoherent training plan.

If Weightlifting was as simple as pushing heavy weights all the time, there would be no need for a training plan or coach

tweet this

However, the opposite case can be just as detrimental to your training; some people try to make their training model too simple.

If Weightlifting was as simple as pushing heavy weights all the time, there would be no need for a training plan or coach and every athlete would make linear progress. As anyone with any experience can tell you, progress is not linear.

So how do you develop a scalable model to think about training?

To better frame this question, I need to first talk about something fundamentally important. All Weightlifting training plans, regardless of training style, can be boiled down to the manipulation of a few simple concepts. I like to think of them as the 4 pillars of Olympic Weightlifting. They are, in no particular order:

Olympic Weightlifting

Exercise selection and variation

Exercise selection and variation are the foundations of any strength and conditioning program.

Simply stated, you have to pick exercises that transfer to your sport. For weightlifting, that means picking exercises that relate to the snatch and the clean & jerk.

This does not mean, however, that EVERY exercise you pick has to mimic the competition movements. Bench pressing, for example, does not mimic the competitive weightlifting movements but is great for building general upper body strength, so it could have great use during specific phases of a lifter’s career.

Exercise variation is often a misunderstood topic for Weightlifting.

In order to make great progress, you MUST work the full snatch and full clean and jerk. Variation (lifts from the blocks, hang, complexes, etc.) are just a means to develop a change, not the basis of a program.

For example, working from the high blocks is a great way to develop strength in the final phase of the pull. However, if you increase your snatch drastically from the high blocks and your snatch from the floor remains stagnant, then the final pull was not the limiting factor in your snatch. You should focus your efforts elsewhere to find the weakest link in the chain and continue to improve.

Variation should be used as a tool to enhance training by breaking plateaus and correcting mistakes or deficiencies. It should not be the core of your program.

Training load management

Training load is defined as all of the “work” you do in a workout. It is a summation of all the sets, reps, and intensities of the exercises you perform.

The focal questions of training load management can be simplified down to:
1) How much work should you do in a day?
2) How do you space that work throughout the week?
3) How do you space the work throughout the cycle?
4) Will this amount of work be enough to induce change while still be able to recover?

There are an unbelievable number of ways to manage this part of training, and there are coaches and researchers that have dedicated their entire lives to trying to find the optimal training style.

We will dive deeper into this topic another day, but for now I can give you a simple qualifier for deciding on your own training load management: always make sure you have sound reasoning for whatever you are doing!

4 Pillars of Olympic Weightlifting- Mike

Prehab, rehab and mobility

Over the past decade, the strength and conditioning world has begun to really prioritize quality movement.

People like Eric Cressey, Quinn Henoch, and Kelly Starrett have done a fantastic job spreading great information about mobility and movement. It is imperative that you as an athlete or coach take advantage of this knowledge.

Develop a good warm-up routine. Focus on areas that lack mobility.  Make sure you don’t have any drastic muscular imbalances. Being able to hit the correct positions comfortably not only keeps you healthy, but also will help you reach your maximum performance as well.


Technique is the basis of everything in Weightlifting, and that is not up for debate.

Often times people misinterpret a plateau for a lack in strength, when in reality it is a lack of technique. However, because of the complex nature of the movements, fixing weightlifting technique takes time.

Don’t get frustrated! Use every rep as an opportunity to get better.

Applications and takeaways

Weightlifting training can always be viewed as a combination of these 4 pillars. Each one works in unison with the other and none of them can be neglected if you want your training to be successful.

However, the top priorities for any athlete should change over time. As a lifter progresses, his or her program should adapt.

Although each program is unique to each person, there are basic guidelines that you can follow depending on your level of experience:

Beginner/new lifters:

olympic weightlifting

Intermediate lifters:

4 pillars of olympic weightlifting- intermediate

Advanced lifters:

4 pillars of olympic weightlifting- advanced

These guidelines will help identify where you should focus your training efforts according to skill level.

Often times progress stalls because an athlete neglects 1 of the 4 pillars I talked about.

For example, you can have a beautifully designed training plan, have great mobility, but lack technical skill in a particular area. To compensate, most of your next cycle should intensely focus on correcting that technical mistake.

Focus your efforts on the one area that is holding you back.

When tackling a programming change, remember that any change will fall into one of those four broad categories.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need a drastic programming change when in reality you are only one missing one component.  Always have a reason for what you are doing.

Training with purpose is the single most powerful tool a weightlifter can possess.

About the author

This is a guest post from Mike Nackoul. 

Mike is an 85 kg weightlifter and was a member of the 2013 World team that competed in Wrocław, Poland. He has won national championships in the youth, junior, and university categories and competed in international championships all over the world. He was a resident athlete the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and trained under Zygmunt Smalcerz. 



Join the Conversation