Working with athletes from all ages, competitive levels, and in many different sports, you learn to respect all stages of an athletic career. Every coach wants to see their athlete improve and succeed in their respective sport, and in the beginning, it’s usually very easy. In weightlifting, we see numbers go up quickly. Every day seems like a PR day. Don’t get too excited, because as they advance and train longer, it becomes harder to make those improvements.
I began coaching at a gym in Mobile, Alabama called Titan Athletics in May of 2006, in exchange for a gym membership. My job was to train beginner athletes in strength and conditioning for their upcoming sports seasons. I trained football players, baseball players, softball, etc., ages 10-14 years old with the goal of improving general strength, 40/60 times, and vertical leap.
The program was based off of a strength training method developed years ago by 2004 Men’s Olympic Head Coach, Gayle Hatch, and supervised by current Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of Alabama and my now husband, Jason Poeth. The kids didn’t train like full-time Olympic weightlifters, but we used the full Olympic lifts combined with strength movements and plyometric work to make them better, more well-rounded athletes.
Like most beginners, they improved rapidly during this age. So rapidly, in fact, that you begin to feel like a superhero. New lifters improve based on intramuscular and intermuscular coordination (also called central nervous system adaptations), up to the point where strength is the limiting factor. Intermuscular coordination is basically the muscles learning to work together and fire in the appropriate sequence. Human Kinetics quotes, “It is the volume of work, and therefore the repetition of movement or an exercise, that improves intermuscular coordination.”
Therefore, I rarely had new lifters attempt 1 rep maximums. They would complete 5 rep, 3 rep, and 2 rep “maximums” almost on a daily basis in various exercises, with emphasis on technique. If technique broke down, the weight was lowered and the desired amount of volume was completed at a lower weight.
I also did not use percentages with these athletes. They were monitored based on what we called a benchmark system. If the weight looked good, they could move up in weight and if not, the weight stayed the same or was lowered. They kept track of their “maxes” on a huge chalkboard wall that covered the back half of the gym, and they lived to erase the old and replace with the new max.
Keep in mind that they were never taken to the point of failure at the age range I worked with. Misses did happen, but they were addressed and generally happened because of minor technical mistakes. I never wanted to enforce bad habits or instill fear in these athletes. The goal for these athletes was to improve strength and endurance levels for whatever sport they were involved in at school.
These training techniques and tendency for initial, rapid improvement also applies to adults who are new to lifting. But as we all eventually learn, of you stay for the long haul, eventually the gains don’t come as easily and it’s all about the“grind.” The point where this occurs in every athlete’s careers will differ. It could be many years before the an athlete reaches that day in-day out, beat up feeling where you may not come close to your personal records for months, even years.
At that point, you continue to tweak your training for very minimal breakthroughs. Some lifters will work a year for a 1 kilogram improvement. Others make no improvement at all and just hope to match their previous bests in a competition. Training through these plateaus is another matter entirely, and one we will explore soon. For now, just remember how easily things came when you first started lifting and why you keep with it. You stay for “The Love of the Game.”
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.