Weightlifter muscle snatches in the training hall at the 2018 World Championships

Building Momentum When There Isn’t Any

Bad days happen. In this sport, bad weeks, bad months, and possibly, bad years happen. This does not mean progress is completely absent, but there probably is not a meaningful amount of it. The competition total just floats around the same point, maybe dips, and anything higher seems elusive. Each meet performance is sub-par, bordering on more misses than makes. Strength work is not getting you stronger and your bodyweight is moving for the wrong reasons. Of course, no one wants to be here, but every now and then you can see yourself drifting into that territory.

The longer you have been training the more likely progress is to stall intermittently. Of course this varies from athlete to athlete, but as a rule of thumb, the better your lifts and the more time you have spent performing them the more time it takes to keep pushing them up. The purpose of this article is to highlight the importance of momentum in training and competing. This can take the form of psychological momentum, exercise sequencing, and the manipulation of other training variables to create a greater potential for performance gain.

Momentum is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as, “strength or force gained by motion or by a series of events”. In training, this series of events is likely a string of successes or a well thought out plan leading to those successes. In competition, this comes as the appropriate attempt selection to lead to the best outcome, which for most will be going six for six. Figuring out the correct strategy to create and sustain momentum throughout a training career is imperative to maximizing success.

Competing in this sport is an opportunity to showcase the hard work and countless hours of training that have been put in. When it does not go well it can oftentimes define the last training cycle or even the last few training cycles. Assuming that everyone reading this will experience those lulls in progress let’s lay out a plan to get an athlete or a coach back on track and create momentum into the next meet.

Step 1 – Defining Goals

This process begins with clearly defined goals. What is looking to be accomplished in this training cycle? Is it building muscle, maximal strength, or technical proficiency? All of these goals require changes in exercise frequency, intensity, volume, and execution. For example, it would make sense to substitute deadlifts in place of pulls for hypertrophy or maximal strength development. A well thought-out plan is the first step for the creation of momentum leading up to the completion of a macrocycle.

Step 2 – Exercise Selection

Exercise selection is next in line and often overlooked and oversimplified. If getting better at the snatch is the goal, then snatch. That is the logic seen amongst some individuals. Well, more is not better. Better is better. When looking to create momentum after periods of staleness, exercise selection and sequencing can be key. This is not exclusive to physiology or technical momentum, but also psychological. To address the first point, physiological momentum is gained through changes in implement selection (barbell vs. dumbbell), range of motion (more vs. less), positional strength (areas of emphasis – pauses at knee and hip for pulling proficiency), and loading parameters (deadlift vs. pull).

Step 3 – Choosing Your Stimuli

The set up for the first training cycle after competition may be a hypertrophy/accumulation phase, with a focus on technique development and improved work capacity. A way to build momentum is to use compound basics with the greatest range of motion (ROM), tempos, pauses, and higher repetitions (likely nothing above 12 for any movement – the “why” is for another article). An example for each would be:

  • Dumbbells for body part specific movements, like bench press, shoulder press, rows, for a longer range of motion and the potentiation of barbell movements in the following training cycle
  • Slowed eccentric or concentric phases of the lift to improve muscle size and work on movement proficiency
  • Pauses to improve strength around a specific joint angle (~15 degrees either way) or to remove the benefit of the stretch-shortening cycle (~5+ seconds)
  • Higher repetitions to limit the number of sets and weight needed to accumulate adequate volume

All of these variables are adjusted to create a greater potential of improvement the next training cycle. Repetition number can be brought down, time under load decreased, exercise implement changed, and technical demands reduced to increase the weight used. All of this should be thought out ahead of time and anticipated. Not all of the above options need to or should be used, but potential avenues of progress.

From training cycle to training cycle exercises can be manipulated from general to specific for loading purposes or competition preparation. For example, the strict press may be used two times a week in the first training cycle. As the transition is made to strength-focused training the exercise is substituted at least one of the times to a push press. Again, as specificity increases further the push press may be substituted for a power jerk. The obvious limitation for weight on the bar will build confidence as the athlete gets seemingly stronger and stronger each cycle.

Something to note is the technical demands of the exercise. If a very technical movement is reintroduced without a period of practice the ability to overload the movement and create progress may be limited. The cycle before it is used for overloading purposes it can be scheduled on a lighter training day or later in a workout for technical practice. If hang variations have been used exclusively for the snatch and clean throughout a training cycle it may make sense to introduce movements from the floor for a cycle before actually attempting to overload them. The cycle after the frequency can then be increased and so can the weight on the bar.

Competition has finally neared and momentum has been created. Instead of crashing and burning by poor attempt or warm up selection, choose to take makeable attempts. Go six for six and build confidence in competing. That may not sound sexy, but making lifts means a bigger total and potential for PRs. There are plenty of other meets in the future to lay it on the line, but during periods of poor training and poor competing, this is not it.

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