Weightlifting University’s “Programming A Champion” is a course developed by Garage Strength founder and head coach, Dane Miller. The course aims to educate weightlifting coaches and athletes on the basics of programming, Dane’s approach to training weightlifters, and how you can successfully implement these strategies for yourself or your athletes. Before we dive into a comprehensive review of the course it would be useful, in case you are unaware, to know who Dane Miller is and what Garage Strength is all about.
Dane has seen a tremendous amount of success as both an athlete and coach in a number of sports. He excelled at the shot put and discus, throwing for Penn State University, where he won and qualified for many prestigious events. Now, as far as weightlifting success is concerned, he has coached multiple Team USA squads, helped coach at USAW training camps at the OTC, and was the USAW recipient of the Larry Barnholt award for coaching excellence. On top of all of those accolades Dane has trained with some of the best coaches in both track and field and weightlifting, including the legendary Anatoly Bondarchuk (the most successful hammer throw coach of all-time) and Zygmunt Smalcerz (an Olympic gold medalist in weightlifting and a two-time national coach). All of this experience and expertise led to the founding of Garage Strength in 2008, a gym which has produced weightlifting World-level competitors and medalists, multiple national champions and medalists, and plenty of other very high-level competitors in many different sports.
Now this is starting to seem like a course worth considering?
The Course: A Brief Overview
Weightlifting University is comprised of 4 modules and 11 videos, with the first module focused on the basics of programming. As Dane sees it, these basics are: Beginning a Weightlifting Program, Basic Rep/Set Schemes, and lastly, Volume and Intensity. The course continues, looking at the pros and cons of two training styles, which will both be contextualized later on, auto-regulation (operating by “feel”), and percentage based training. Further laying the groundwork is a module breaking down the differences between Bulgarian training and Russian training, communicating the pros and cons of each. Wrapping up the theoretical side of things is a discussion of rep modulators, how they change the difficulty of a set and why they are useful to influence training outcomes. Finally, Dane dives into periodization and peaking for competition, how to use auto-regulation to peak, and defends a sample training plans that he has drafted up.
‘Beginning a weightlifting program‘ focuses on individuals who are completely new to the sport and how a coach should go about grooming them to ensure ‘buy-in’ and long term commitment. ‘Basic rep and sets schemes‘ covers what Dane considers to be the most useful rep and set combinations for results. For example:
- Waves for strength and technical development
- Strength rep schemes
- What rep and set schemes contribute to consistency in the lifts
- How Dane would program in accessory lifts
Of course I cannot give too much away, but there was quite a bit of practical relevance to this section and for those who understand programming on a foundational level this section definitely adds tools to the coach’s growing toolbox. Lastly, Dane covered ‘volume and intensity‘, why both are important and how they contribute to technique, consistency, stress management, and having “balls” (read: courage).
This section gets to the heart of Dane’s programming, auto-regulation. Dane tends to move away from percentages because he finds that they do not adequately accommodate fluctuations in day-to-day performance. Basically, Dane and his athletes go by “feel”. How does this look in practice? Dane uses static and ramping weeks to determine weights throughout a training cycle. Static weeks use decreased volumes at static intensities from set to set. The ramping weeks allow athletes to push themselves with exercise and set/rep ranges. This weight is then used for the proceeding static week.
Auto-regulation is contrasted with percentage based training, including an explanation on how they differ as well as the pros and cons of each. There is also a slide show added to the module, which the coach/athlete can reference in order to quickly understand Dane’s talking points.
Bulgarian and Russian training models are frequently centers of discussion amongst coaches and athletes in weightlifting. The first video in this module breaks down the complexities of each method, the pros and cons of each, and how you can use either method to help improve your lifting. For example, nearing competition an athlete may prefer to use a Bulgarian style of training, going heavy in the competition lifts very often to perfect the skill of heavy snatching and clean and jerking. Dane expressed his bias, favoring the Russian system of training for most athletes, most of the year. This is not because of some odd favoritism, but because of reasons listed within the talk, noting the difference in the amount of competitions, training sessions, and styles of training used between the two methods.
The following part of the Training Methods section is a discussion of Dane’s use of rep modulators. Rep modulators are ways of performing an exercise to adjust the desired outcome. He goes over a few of his favorites, including: pauses/isometrics, eccentrics, unbroken sets, timed sets, doubles bounces, and that is just to name a few. He also educates the viewers on how these can be incorporated to improve/increase technique, strength, volume, and intensity, or a combination of the four.
Periodization and Peaking for Competition
The last module in this course focuses on ‘competitive preparation vs. peaking’, ‘linear periodization vs. parabolic periodization’, peaking with auto-regulation, and the defense of a mock training plan.
Competitive preparation and peaking differ in a few ways, including the use of Dane’s rep modulators and amount of variations lifts vs. competition lifts. Dane does a good job explaining his approach to differentiating the two and clueing the individual into how they could put these different approaches into practice.
Next, Dane breaks down two types of periodization, linear and parabolic periodization. He explains that traditionally linear periodization is/was used and does in fact work. There are of course pros and cons as explained in the video. Dane then examines parabolic periodization, which is a form of undulating periodization, varying volume and intensity cycle to cycle, waving up and down. Linear periodization, as he explains, functions best off percentage work, while parabolic periodization is best served using auto-regulation.
Peaking with Auto-Regulation
This was a section I very much enjoyed. Dane gives an overview of peaking, considerations for each athlete, expected adaptations, and a timeline for the lifts before a competition (last heavy snatch, clean and jerk, back/front squat, and pulls). This was definitely one of the more useful models for me, even if it was a bit short. The practical takeaways here are endless and should be reflected to aid in improving one’s ability to program a peak.
Defense of a Training Program
The last section of the course covers the creation and the defense of a training program. Dane details two days of a training program that he writes for an athlete and explains his reasoning behind each exercise and rep/set scheme. Again, the practical takeaways from this slide are very valuable, not only for the information on the board, but the thinking behind it. All of the information up to this point is collated into the program described and helps to connect many of the previously identified ideas.
I figure this is the best time to drop two very important pieces of information. The course costs 30$, I waited until now because I did not want anyone swayed by the price without first realizing what they were getting. Second, there are quizzes and questionnaires throughout, not many and they are not tough to complete, but I really appreciate that there is some work to help cement the information.
What do I think of this course?
I thoroughly enjoyed the information on this course. I went in without really knowing what to expect, having not seen, read, or heard much from Dane previously. A large portion of it was novel and I left having gained a lot of new information. Most of the information regarding intensity, volume, auto-regulation, Bulgarian and Russian training (to name a few) were already known, but they were contextualized in a different way. Dane has been coached by the best and has coached some of the best. If you are at all looking to up your coaching game or even to understand more about the way that it is done in different gyms then this is for you.