What Does it Take to Make Weight?

Almost all weightlifters have done it—some to a small extent, some to a large extent.  No one, however, wants to talk about it.  And those who do talk about it generally downplay or lie about the extent of their behavior.

You will hear weightlifters discussing the topic privately, trying to figure out the best strategies.  When it comes to publicly discussing the matter, however, the community is mute.

Run an internet search for the words “weightlifting” and “weight cutting.”  There are a couple dozen anecdotal articles–weightlifters telling stories about what worked for them.  However, there are few guidelines established by medical professionals and little organizational guidance.

Unfortunately, silence is not the best way to address this matter.  Pretending that it doesn’t happen—or that the sport doesn’t encourage it—can be harmful, especially to youth weightlifters.

What is weight cutting?

Weight cutting involves losing weight quickly to fit into a lower weight class for a sports competition.

Weight cutting is typically accomplished through food restriction or water manipulation—forcing water out of the body prior to a weigh-in and then rehydrating as quickly as possible.

About 65% of the human body is made of water, which makes it a popular source of temporary weight loss.  Studies have shown that dehydration of 2-3% has little effect on strength or anaerobic power.  Reduced water can be regained by hydrating after weigh-ins.  According to a study by the University of Montreal, it takes only about 5 minutes for water to enter the bloodstream from the stomach.  And, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, the body can go from moderately dehydrated to fully rehydrated within 45 minutes with only 600 mL of water.  (This study was performed on subjects age 25, so age could affect the timing of water absorption.)

Doctors and nutritionists generally recommend against weight cutting.  However, many athletes in weight class sports do it to gain an advantage.

 

Is weight cutting dangerous? 

Weight cutting, also referred to as rapid weight loss, came into the spotlight in the fall of 1997 when three collegiate wrestlers died within a 5-week period from complications of weight cutting.  All three wrestlers were attempting to lose weight rapidly by inducing severe dehydration (exercise and heat-induced sweating and fluid depravation).  After these deaths, weight cutting was no longer considered a harmless exercise in discipline and self-control.

In 2015, the American College of Sports Medicine published a journal article entitled “Rapid Weight Loss in Sports with Weight Classes.”  Of interest, the article noted:

  • Rapid dehydration by more than 5% of the total body weight can result in muscle cramps, muscle injuries, heat stroke, and even death.
  • No matter which strategies are used, weight loss that occurs in less than 7 days has potential negative health and performance effects.
  • Athletes who are competing at an appropriate body composition achieved with scientifically sound training and nutrition principles will maximize their performance without needing to engage in rapid weight loss prior to the competition.

Why is there not more medical guidance on weight cutting?

When asked about weight cutting, Dr. Mark Lavallee, Chairman of the USA Weightlifting Sports Medicine Society, acknowledged that numerous athletes regularly cut weight without any adverse side effects.  He explained, however, that he could not give general recommendations on weight cutting because what is safe and perfectly fine for a healthy athlete with no medical conditions could be detrimental to another athlete.

Dr. Lavallee pointed out that an athlete’s age, physical maturity, body composition and associated medical conditions all factor into the equation.  He gave two examples to illustrate his point:

  • A 12-year old female who is borderline anemic because she has heavy periods. A simple 1-2% weight cut could greatly decrease her strength and predispose her to passing out.
  • An 11-year old male with sickle cell trait.  During physically stressful times, such as dehydration, heat stress, or high altitude, his red blood cells could “sickle” or change shape, which would decrease oxygen carrying capacity and increase risk of hypoxia, clots, severe joint pain, and even death.  This athlete should not dehydrate even 2-3%.

Dr. Lavallee advised that any athlete wanting to engage in weight cutting practices should seek the advice of a sports physician for a personalized plan.

What about organizational guidance?

Weightlifting has not suffered the same tragedies as wrestling, and USA Weightlifting (USAW) does not regulate weight cutting practices.  USAW does prepare Competition Readiness plans for members of its international team, which monitor athletes’ bodyweight going into international competitions.  For all other athletes, however, USAW leaves the matter of weight management up to the individuals involved.

Wrestling, however, has developed some regulation following the deaths of the three collegiate wrestlers.  The National Federation of State High School Associations implemented rules in the 2006-2007 competition season that are intended to discourage high school wrestlers from last minute weight cutting.  Most notably, the regulations require:

  • A hydration level not to exceed 1.025

  • A body fat assessment no lower than 7 percent for boys and 12 percent for girls

  • A monitored, weekly weight loss plan limiting weekly weight loss to 1.5 percent of total body weight per week.

So, a wrestler who wants to “weight light” for a competition must plan in advance and cannot rely on last minute dehydration.

Why are the wrestling regulations of interest to weightlifters?

Both wrestling and weightlifting are weight class sports.  Wrestling has decided that a last minute bodyweight cut of 1.5% is acceptable for high school athletes, but anything more is not okay.  As a coach or parent of a youth weightlifter, this could serve as a helpful number if your athlete wants to cut weight before a competition.  

Keep in mind, however, Dr. Lavallee’s recommendation to seek advice from a sports doctor before undertaking any weight cutting measures.

What can the weightlifting community do to reduce weight cutting by youth weightlifters?

  • Education:  Youth athletes should be taught that rapid weight loss measures can be dangerous.  They should learn proper weight management techniques so that weight cutting does not become necessary.  Weight management is simply achieving a desired body weight through healthy food choices.  The process can be as simple as cutting out junk food prior to a competition or as complicated as a detailed diet plan.  Coaches can assist in this effort by encouraging their young athletes to make good food choices.  Parents can assist by keeping junk food out of the house and making healthy snacks readily available.  And USA Weightlifting can assist by making weight management and nutrition materials available to its athletes.
  • Rule Changes: According to the American College of Sports Medicine article referenced above, rule changes impact athletes’ behavior even more than educational programs.  The article points out that voluntary education programs in place between 1960 and 1997 had little impact on wrestlers’ weight cutting behavior.  After the NCAA and National Federation of State High School Associations implemented weight cutting regulations, however, the frequency and magnitude of weight cutting by wrestlers went down.

What rule changes would benefit youth weightlifters?

Allow 13 & Under weightlifters to compete regardless of their bodyweight.  Under the current rules, a youth weightlifter at a national USA Weightlifting competition, such as USAW’s Youth Nationals, must declare a weight class the evening before the competition begins.  Two hours before the athlete competes, he or she must weigh in.  If the athlete weighs in too heavy or light for the declared weight class, the athlete cannot compete.  This rule applies to all weightlifters in the competition, whether the lifters are age 9 or 17.  The rule puts pressure on athletes who are positioned on the borderline of a weight class.  The athletes’ parents have forked over a good amount of money in flights, hotel rooms, meals, and competition fees.  If the athlete does not make weight, he risks letting down his parents and wasting their time and money.  The rule often leads young athletes to take last minute weight cutting measures.

Coach Jimmy Duke, head coach of Lift for Life gym in St. Louis, Missouri proposes a very simple solution to this problem:

Allow the youngest lifters (13 & Under) to lift regardless of their bodyweight.  If an athlete weighs-in too heavy, just ask the athlete to return a couple of hours later when the next weight class weighs-in.  

Q: Why not extend this rule to all youth lifters?

A: Coach Duke points out that lifters 13+ can compete in International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) competitions.  IWF rules require athletes to compete within designated weight classes.  If the athletes do not make weight at the competitions, they cannot compete.  So, athletes 13+ should learn any weight management techniques necessary to compete within their weight classes.

But I want to move down a weight class!  Can I do this safely?

In weightlifting, it is not unusual for athletes to obsess about their weight classes—even to the detriment of building muscle or training hard.  All too often I hear a weightlifter say, “If I could only lose [a ridiculous amount of weight], while maintaining the same strength, I could be really competitive.”

A few thoughts on that . . .

  • Have patience.  This is not the sport of weight loss.  It is the sport of weightlifting.  It is easier to lose weight than to gain strength.  Building strength takes time!  Ultimately, however, you will be more satisfied if you train hard and lift heavy than if you are always hungry and performing below your potential.
  • Body Fat: If you have a lot of body fat to spare, losing weight likely will benefit you.  Shedding excess fat will make you lighter and healthier without affecting your strength.  After all, fat doesn’t lift weight—muscle does.  If you are currently at a healthy weight with a normal amount of body fat, however, losing weight probably won’t make you any more competitive because some of the weight you lose will be muscle.
  • Weight management: Healthy eating can lead you to the correct weight class.  There is nothing wrong with losing weight by cleaning up your diet.  Swap junk food for healthy snacks like fruits and vegetables.  Substitute water for sugary beverages.  Eat a salad once in a while!  And if you are serious about losing weight while lifting heavy, consult a sports nutritionist for a personal weight loss plan.

Weight cutting should not be taboo in the weightlifting community.  As long as weightlifting remains a weight-class sport, weight cutting will occur.  However, as parents, coaches and advocates for youth weightlifters, we should do our best to encourage healthy weight management over last minute weight loss efforts.

References:

Khodaee, Morteza, Lucianne Olewinski, Babak Shadgan, and Robert R. Kiningham. “Rapid Weight Loss in Sports with Weight Classes.” Current Sports Medicine Reports 14, no. 6 (2015): 435-41.

Péronnet, F, et al. “Pharmacokinetic Analysis of Absorption, Distribution and Disappearance of Ingested Water Labeled with D₂O in Humans.” European Journal of Applied Physiology., U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21997675.

The Acute Effects of Fluid Intake on Urine Specific Gravity … : The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.” LWW, journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2013/04000/The_Acute_Effects_of_Fluid_Intake_on_Urine.18.aspx.

Lambert, C., and B. Jones. “Alternatives to Rapid Weight Loss in US Wrestling.International Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 31, no. 08, Nov. 2010, pp. 523–528., doi:10.1055/s-0030-1254177.

Photos courtesy of Lifting.Life.

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Mom, I Need New Shoes! Shoe Buying Tips for Youth Weightlifters

Child: “Mom, I need new shoes.”

Mom: “I just bought you new shoes.”

Child: “Well, they don’t fit any more.”

Mom: “I can’t buy you shoes this minute. You’ll just have to make those shoes work.”

It is likely that EVERY child and parent in modern history has had this conversation.

As a parent, it is annoying that kids’ feet grow so quickly. As a child, it is equally annoying that you have to get new shoes just when your old ones start to feel comfortable.  Like it or not, larger feet—and new shoes—are a part of growing up.  Normally, getting new shoes is not a big problem. Plenty of stores sell shoes—you just go into a store that sells the shoes you want, find a pair that fits, and then negotiate with your parents, who always try to talk you into the “cheap” shoes.

When it comes to weightlifting shoes, however, the solution is not so easy!

Weightlifting shoes are not ordinary athletic shoes. They have a raised heel, a hard, flat sole and straps. These features allow a weightlifter get into a deeper squat by permitting a greater range of motion in the ankle. They also provide better stability in the foot when standing up heavy weights.

Selecting weightlifting shoes can be a frustrating process.

    • At $100 to $200 a pair, weightlifting shoes are expensive.
    • Sporting goods stores do not carry weightlifting shoes, so you cannot simply go into a store, try on shoes, and find the pair that suits you.
    • You are going to be spending a LOT of time training in these shoes, so you want to get some that are comfortable and suit your lifting needs.

 

Selecting YOUTH weightlifting shoes offers additional challenges—

    • Youth athletes’ feet are constantly growing, which means you will probably need a new pair of lifting shoes every six months to a year.
    • Most weightlifting shoes are built for adult weightlifters, so finding a size that fits a youth lifter can be a challenge.

 

For starters, consider whether you actually NEED new weightlifting shoes . . .

    • Do you lift competitively? If you lift weights to build strength or as conditioning for another sport—or simply for recreation, you may not need weightlifting shoes. Weightlifting shoes provide stability for the feet; this stability becomes particularly noticeable with heavy weights. However, general strength building does not require maxing out with heavy weights. It can be accomplished with submaximal weights and higher repetitions. At lower weights, the benefits of a weightlifting shoe may not be noticeable.
    • Can you buy some used shoes? Ask around your gym. You might find another lifter who is willing to sell you their perfectly good, barely used shoes. Since you’ll probably grow out of the shoes in another 6 months to a year, save your parents some money and accept the used shoes! If it grosses you out to wear someone else’s sweaty shoes, replace the insole. Shoe insoles can be purchased at any drugstore for $10 or less.

If you really DO need new shoes, consider these pointers:

    • Buy a little larger than you need. You want your weightlifting shoes to fit snugly. However, you don’t want to buy new shoes every three months. You can fix this problem by buying a shoe that is a little larger than you need and then adding an extra insole to make the shoe smaller. When your feet grow, take out the extra insole, and your shoe will still fit. We use this trick regularly to extend the wearability of weightlifting shoes.
    • Read reviews! When it comes to weightlifting shoes, one shoe does not suit everyone. Some shoes are wider/narrower; some shoes have a higher heel; some shoes have multiple straps versus a single strap. Fortunately, there are thousands of customer reviews on weightlifting shoes. Find the shoe you are considering on Amazon, and start reading what real customers have to say about it! Read and research until you are confident the shoe is right for you. Keep in mind, however, that most of these reviews are written by and for adult weightlifters, so the review may not be as helpful for you. In the future, I will write an article reviewing weightlifting shoes available to youth lifters. Stay tuned.
    • Shop around. There are only a handful of weightlifting shoe retailers on the market. Start by looking at the manufacturer’s website. For instance, if you are searching for some Nike Romeleo 3s, look at the pricing on nike.com. From there, search other websites, such as Amazon, Eastbay, and Rogue. You can generally find shoes on sale if you search diligently. However, you should always consult the seller’s return policy before buying. You don’t want to get stuck with shoes that arrive too small with no way to return or exchange them!

Don’t love the shoes you have?

 

If you find that you don’t love the weightlifting shoes you purchase, you can return them and get something else, or . . .

    • Remember that you will grow out of them soon! In the course of your weightlifting career, you will own many shoes. Don’t obsess about the perfect shoe.  If it’s not just right this time, you can always purchase a different pair the next time.  My son, Hutch, spent a year wearing second-hand Adidas Powerlift shoes that he didn’t love. However, they only cost me $20, and I told him that he could pick his next pair of shoes. It was a win-win situation. I got out easy on Hutch’s shoes one year, and he got to pick the ones he liked the next year.
    • Training matters more than shoes. Fancy weightlifting shoes are fun. However, they won’t compensate for time in the gym. You will never hear someone win a major weightlifting championship and give the credit to their shoes.

 

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Creating Confidence: An Interview with Jenny Schumacher

A large black Labradoodle ambles toward the entrance of Proven Strength and Conditioning, the weightlifting gym co-owned by Jenny Schumacher in American Fork, Utah.  Schumacher calls to her dog, Fonzie, and the dog retreats; the dog’s interest in the newcomer is satisfied with a glance at the familiar face.

Schumacher, who coaches six days a week, smiles and greets the new arrival with, “Hi, I haven’t seen you in a while.  I’m so happy you’re here.”  The cheery greetings continue as other weightlifters make their way into the gym, picking up the week’s programming from a stack of papers on Schumacher’s desk and silently selecting training platforms.

With her dedication and enthusiasm, Schumacher is representative of the fresh, new energy that has infused USA Weightlifting and is ushering in a new era of hope for the sport.

According to Vance Newgard, head coach of the Olympic Training Site at Northern Michigan University, “The largest problem plaguing the sport of weightlifting in the United States today is a lack of hope.  People don’t believe that American weightlifters can bring home Olympic medals.”

Coaches like Schumacher are working to change this.

Early Years

Schumacher began her journey eight years ago when a friend introduced her to CrossFit.  She was instantly drawn to the Olympic lifts and sought out coaching and education opportunities.  In just a few short years, Schumacher was a certified USA Weightlifting coach with her own group of athletes.  She is now the head coach at Proven Strength and Conditioning, where she trains athletes six hours a day, six days a week.

Grassroots Director

In addition to coaching, Schumacher assists USA Weightlifting at the organization level.  She can be seen at most national competitions, serving as a marshall, referee, speaker, timer or whatever else needs doing.  Schumacher is a USAW National Level Coach, as well as an IWF National Referee.  Recently, she was elected to USA Weightlifting’s Board of Directors, where she serves as the Grassroots Director.

As the Grassroots Director, Schumacher represents the club owners to USA Weightlifting and votes at board meetings on their behalf.  Schumacher explains, “I act as a resource for club owners, and I also convey the ‘word on the street.’  People come up to me at meets and give me ideas, which I report to the board of directors.”

 

10-year old, Ryan, is training to set a new Utah state record for his weight class at an upcoming competition.

Coaching with Confidence

Throughout the self-guided practice, Schumacher patrols the room, attending to lifters as they need guidance.  She is particularly mindful of the younger lifters and spends most of her time instructing and correcting their movements.  “Weightlifting is an excellent tool for teaching kids how to deal with failure.  Many parents are so protective of their kids that they don’t want them to fail.  In fact, we want our kids to fail so that we can teach them how to deal with failure in a healthy, positive way.  Weightlifting gives kids an opportunity to fail and succeed over and over again.”

Schumacher’s favorite part about coaching, however, is instilling confidence in her lifters: “When you challenge yourself physically, you have confidence that other people don’t have.  That confidence can’t be beat.  I love the fact that people can find that in weightlifting.  For me personally, my favorite part is watching people’s confidence explode.”

After training with Schumacher for two weeks, I gathered the following tips that could be useful to other coaches:

  • Use Positivity.  Throughout her training sessions, Schumacher remained optimistic and positive, even when her lifters made misses or were having a bad day.  Schumacher explained, “Weightlifters are optimists.  We always feel like things will be better tomorrow.”  Schumacher’s attitude transferred to her lifters, who consistently put their best efforts into each lift.
  • Unilateral Work.  Schumacher is a big believer in exercises that bring balance to the body.  She explained that almost all weightlifters are stronger on one side of their bodies, and that corrective exercises should be performed to bring the weaker side up to the level of the strong side.  She uses exercises such as single leg box jumps and single leg triple jumps to achieve this.
  • Create Opportunities for Competition.  Schumacher pointed out that kids—especially boys—love to compete.  Coaches can keep their training fun by creating competitive opportunities for their athletes.
  • Volunteer!  If you want to be a better coach, you should observe other good coaches.  Schumacher explains, “I like working in the back [as a marshall].  It is a great place to learn.  I get to watch good coaches interact with their athletes.  I get to see how they warm up their athletes and prepare them for competition.  I get to see how the best athletes go out onto the platform.”
Youth lifter, Gavin (right), gets advice from Will, a senior lifter. Gavin participates in several sports, but he especially enjoys weightlifting because of the individual instruction he receives and the ability to constantly test his limits.

As I left the gym–ten minutes after practice ended–Schumacher was still working with athletes, intent on helping them regardless of the time required.  I smiled, realizing that the future of weightlifting will remain bright as long as coaches like Schumacher are involved.

 

Kuinini Manumua – August 2017 Featured Athlete

Please let us introduce you to our featured athlete for August: Kuinini Manumua.  We are so excited to feature Kuinini who, btw, secured a bronze medal at the Youth World Weightlifting Championship earlier this year!

Where is home?

This question is very vague in a way but I live in San Francisco,California where my home is at. But if you are indicating where is home in how I feel than to me I feel like home is wherever I feel safe and loved. Very cliche in a way but it is how I feel.

When did you get started in this sport?

I started lifting two and a half years ago. Nearing the end of my Freshmen year in high school.

What (or who) got you started?

My current coach, Kevin Doherty introduced me to weightlifting since he was a teacher at the school I am attending for a program named Avid. He is also the weightlifting, track and field and football coach.

What do you enjoy most about weightlifting?

What I enjoy the most about this sport is that I meet the most kindest and sweetest people through this sport and also finding the joy and pleasure in progressing as an athlete and also as an individual.

What does your current training routine look like (hours per day, days per week, where you train, who you train with)?

Since I am on Summer Break right now, I train two hours a day from 1pm to 3pm on Mondays to Fridays. On Saturdays I lift when I am free from 12pm to 2pm because usually I like to go to the movies,  bowling or swimming with friends. I lift for Hassle Free BBC and it is located at the high school I attend, Abraham Lincoln High School. It is a  great environment for me for I get to lift with my friends and also the youth lifters there that are very passionate and dedicated to lifting. They always bring an uplifting feeling to me when I train with these people for they make me want to be successful.

What one or two things do you currently do in your training that has been impactful?

Currently I think the most impactful thing that I do in my training is trying to notice the little mistakes that I do when lifting and fixing it because it really does make a huge impact.

What do you carry around with you in your gym bag that has nothing to do with weightlifting?

Earphones, my phone, wallet and junk food for example like candy especially the blue airheads or hot chips.

What is your diet like?

Honestly speaking, I eat anything that I want. In the mornings, I eat French Toast with bacon and scrambled eggs most of time. On my way to training, I would eat  a banana or strawberries. After training, my friend Savannah and I would pick a place to get food from. Everyday is a different place where we eat all types of food of our choice. From sandwhiches of our choice to Chinese food to anything really that is very delicious. For dinner, I eat whatever my parents cooks up for dinner.

Who do you look up to in the sport?  Why?

Since I am kind of new to knowing the big time lifters in this sport, I don’t look up to anyone yet but I do however have to say that Olga Zubova’s jerks are to die for.

What friendships has this sport brought your way?

This sport introduced me to the people and friends that I know now which I am really close to. It is never a daunting day with the friends I have in weightlifting for they are very supportive, very funny and very energetic.

Are you coachable?

This a very funny question to ask but gladly I am very coachable. That would be a nightmare for my coach if I wasn’t.

What qualities do great coaches possess?

Great coaches are leaders that guides and empowers their athletes, so of course they should have the quality of leadership and also knowledge for they must know the sport they are teaching. Other qualities great coaches possess are effective communication skills, consistency and knowing the athlete for they have to be aware of their individual difference from other athletes because some coaching tactics work on some while on others it doesn’t.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?  Did you take it?

“The only person that should have more faith and belief in the things you do is not your coach or your parents but yourself.” These were the words spoken to me by Kevin Doherty and it has really stuck with me and I did take that advice. No one else should have more faith in me then myself for if I lack faith in myself then why am I lifting? Others shouldn’t have  to believe and hope of things that I know I can do  and end up empty handed because I lacked confidence. It should be myself that wants it more than anyone.

What characteristics do you strive for (on and off the platform)?

Being humble, optimistic and confident.

If you gave everything that you owned away except three things, what would you keep?

My wallet, phone and my mom’s necklace

When you have random free time, how do you spend it?

I watch Netflix, read a book, swim or sleep.

If you could master anything (besides weightlifting), what would it be?

I would want to master all the languages that has ever existed and will exist in the universe.

What have you learned from weightlifting that helps you in other parts of your life?

I learned that it takes a lot of patience and time lifting and it has really helped me out be more patient towards my siblings and be a better sister.

The last time you were knocked down (or discouraged) in this sport, how did you get back up?

Eating a lot of ice cream and keeping my head held high no matter what happened really helped me during my discouraged times.

What are you most grateful for?

I am most grateful for my mom and dad because I love them so much for they are everything in my life.

Where does your strength come from?

I think my strength comes from the people that are very supportive and encouraging towards me because it makes me work hard and be strong in the things that I do so I won’t disappoint.

What are your weightlifting goals?

Being the best weightlifter I can be.

Enjoying the ride.

Photos by Gene Crain, Lifting Life.

Is Undertraining the Secret to Success?

In the past month, I have had the opportunity to speak to the coaches of two of the most accomplished youth weightlifters in the United States—Kevin Simons (Harrison Maurus’s coach) and Ray Jones (C.J. Cumming’s coach). When asked about their athletes’ training, I listened in eager anticipation: I expected to hear tales of grueling training sessions, intensely heavy loads, and long hours spent in training. I was surprised by what I heard instead.

Coach Simons reported that he limits his athletes’ attempts above 90% and that Maurus went three years without missing a clean in training. Three YEARS without missing a clean?! A weightlifter who goes three years without missing a clean is clearly undertraining.

In a separate conversation, Ray Jones, coach of four-time World Champion C.J. Cummings, made a disturbing observation about a recent national competition. Jones remarked that of the 14 athletes in the warm-up room with C.J., all 14 of the other athletes were working through injuries.

Coach Jones expounded, “Injuries are a big problem with what is going on in the U.S. A lot of that stems from athletes trying to follow programming that is too rigorous for them. It is important for athletes to follow individualized plans, listen to their bodies, and not necessarily pound the lifts all of the time.”

Jones continued, “I want my kids to be undertrained. I want them to be able to continue in the sport for as long as they would like—and even return to the sport in their older years. To do this, I need to train them so that they don’t get injured. I want my athletes to have longevity in the sport both physically and mentally.”

Given that both Simons and Jones undertrain their athletes, perhaps this is something the rest of the community should consider.

What is undertraining?

Undertraining occurs when a weightlifter:

  • Trains at below maximal loads
  • Stops training before muscles, tendons and joints are overworked
  • Takes time off from training to allow muscles recover

Undertraining is NOT:

  • Working with weights that are not challenging
  • Abandoning an exercise because it is hard to do
  • Blowing off training because you just don’t feel like it

These are all examples of lazy training, which is not the same as under training!

Why is undertraining so effective?

Injuries stop progress. Overtraining leads to overuse injuries, which are microtraumatic damage to a bone, muscle, or tendon that has been exposed to repetitive stress without sufficient time to heal or repair.  When an athlete is injured, he must take time off to recover or train with lighter loads until the injury has healed. During the healing process, the athlete is not making strength gains. Undertraining reduces the likelihood of injury; this allows an athlete to make strength gains while his overworked peers are sitting on the bench nursing injuries.

Up to 50% of all injuries seen in pediatric sports medicine are related to overuse.

Overtraining leads to burnout. Burnout happens when an athlete is not allowed sufficient time to rest or participate in other activities. Burnout, also referred to as overtraining syndrome, manifests as lack of enthusiasm, personality changes, fatigue, chronic or nonspecific muscle or joint pain, and even difficulty performing normal routines.

Performance plateaus without rest. To improve as an athlete, you must work hard. However, training hard breaks down muscle and makes you weaker. To become stronger, your body must rest. During rest periods, the body rebuilds its cardiovascular and muscular systems by increasing capillaries in the muscles, improving the efficiency of the heart, and increasing glycogen stores and mitochondrial enzyme systems within the muscle cells. The result is a higher level of athletic performance. If an athlete does not get sufficient rest after training hard, however, the body cannot rebuild itself, and performance plateaus. If this imbalance persists, performance will actually decline!

More productive training. A well-rested, recovered athlete will be able to train harder than an exhausted, overworked athlete. Weightlifting is a sport that emphasizes technical proficiency in compound movements that are performed over milliseconds. Without adequate rest, these movements cannot be performed properly.

Longevity. The ultimate goal in training a youth athlete is to produce a disciplined, well-adjusted adult who appreciates the importance of fitness and can handle competitive pressures. Some sports, such as weightlifting, offer the additional bonus of lifelong participation. If a weightlifter does not hurt himself, he can continue to enjoy competitive weightlifting well into his retirement years. In fact, in the U.S. alone, there are over 3,600 athletes over the age of 35 who are competitive weightlifters.

What is the best way to undertrain?

Prepare an Individualized Plan. Coach Jones is a big fan of individualized training plans. According to Jones, athletes who try to follow cookie-cutter plans often get injured because these plans are designed for athletes at a higher level of athletic ability. Jones says, “I’m not going to be arrogant and say that my way is the only way. Several ways work. The important thing is to examine each athlete’s strengths and weaknesses and do what works for that person.”

Listen to your body. As an athlete, it takes self-discipline to stick to a training plan when you don’t feel like training. It takes even more discipline, however, to stop training when your body is injured. Training with an injury doesn’t lead to big gains; it just sets you up for even bigger injuries. Coach Jones advises: “Don’t be so intent on following the programming to the detriment of your body. If you’re hurting, don’t do the exercise!”

Focus on Quality over Quantity. Every time a weightlifter performs a lift, he creates muscle memory in the lift. Over time, the weightlifter no longer thinks about how he will perform the lift; it just happens. And the lift “happens” the same way in competition as in training. So, it is far better to perform a small number of quality repetitions in a training session than a large volume of haphazard lifts.

Step Away from the Barbell. After big competitions, Coach Jones gives his athletes a week off from training. When they return to the gym, the athletes ease back into training with exercises that do not involve the Olympic lifts. Coach Jones is particularly fond of core exercises. Taking time off from traditional barbell work brings variety into training, reduces boredom and fatigue, and allows the body time to recover before the next training cycle.

Take Time to Recover. Coach Jones trains his athletes five days per week, allowing them to rest for two full days each week. The American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness similarly recommends limiting 1 sporting activity to a maximum of 5 days per week with at least 1 day off from any organized physical activity.  Interestingly, elite CrossFit coach, Ben Bergeron, who coaches CrossFit Games winners, Katrin Davidsdottir and Matt Fraser, subscribes to the same philosophy. Bergeron programs Thursdays and Sundays as rest days for his athletes.

Still concerned that you won’t make gains if you undertrain?

Don’t worry! As a youth weightlifter, time is on your side. You have years before you reach your potential, which means you have plenty of time to figure out exactly what works for you. In the meantime, always err on the side of undertraining to ward off aches and pains and keep yourself injury-free.