Programming for Youth Weightlifters

When it comes to youth weightlifting, the first question people ask is:

Is weightlifting safe for children?

The next question is:

How do you program for youth weightlifters?

I answered the safety question in another article.  I have not written on the second question until now, however, because it is complicated.

A weightlifting program is not like a cookie cutter.  It yields good results when used by the athlete for whom it was designed.  When used by another athlete, however, results will vary.  For instance, a youth weightlifter with 3 years of experience will be able to handle more volume and intensity because this lifter has already spent time learning technique and building strength that will support such training.  A beginner who tries to follow the plan of an established athlete is setting himself up for frustration and overtraining injuries.

However, when you are just beginning, something is better than nothing.

The 8-week plan below should get you started—or give you new ideas to incorporate into your current training.

But first, a few words on programming for youth weightlifters . . .

The good news is that programming for youth weightlifters is very similar to programming for adults.  The sport of weightlifting is the same whether you are nine or eighty-nine, which means that the sport specific training is also the same.

However, there are a few differences:

  • General Athleticism: In addition to weightlifting specific exercises, a youth program should incorporate movements that develop overall athleticism.  As a coach, you want to build strong, healthy kids—not athletes with a single skill set.  Kids have time on their side.  They do not need to lift huge amounts of weight at age 10.  Rather, they need to build a strong foundation—core strength, balance, flexibility—elements that will set them up to lift heavy weights as their bodies develop.
  • Fun: Kids like to laugh and play.  If your program is boring, kids will quit.  Having fun does not mean goofing off in the weight room.  It means incorporating challenges and games regularly.
  • Percentages: Most weightlifting programs work by applying percentages to a lifter’s one rep max.  Percentages are less useful for youth lifters, however, because these athletes are constantly growing and developing.  Basing work off a one rep max might leave a youth lifter working well below his capabilities, or it might injure a lifter who is not conditioned to the programmed percentages.  A better approach is to watch your athlete and add weight if they reps are not challenging.  For this reason, the weightlifting plan below prescribes only reps and sets; weights are left up to the coach.  Choose something challenging.  Record the weights used each day, and you will soon discover the best loads for your athlete.
  • Age and Training Age: Consider the age and maturity of your lifter when designing a program.  Younger lifters will have a smaller attention span and will need shorter sessions. Attempting a three-hour training session with an eight-year old will be miserable for both of you.  Similarly, the training age of a lifter matters.  A teenage lifter with 2+ years of experience can handle significantly more volume and intensity than a teenage lifter with no experience.
  • Technique: Practice does not make perfect.  Practice makes permanent.  Every single repetition of a lift builds muscle memory.  If your lifter’s technique falls apart when you increase the weight, take the lifter back down in weight until the technique is fixed.  Your athlete will be mad about this, but he will thank you later in life when his lifts look sharp and his technique allows him to lift efficiently.
  • Positivity.  Keep things positive by giving encouragement and praise liberally.  Children are very sensitive to criticism.  You can make or break a champion by how you speak to your athlete.
  • Misses:  Practice making lifts, not missing them.  A miss on a lift once in a while is fine.  It is part of the sport.  Remember, however, that when an athlete misses a lift, it changes the way he perceives that weight.  An athlete who misses a certain weight repeatedly will develop a mental block at that weight.  Remove this obstacle by limiting max effort attempts.

And now for the fun stuff . . .

 

8 Week Program

Training Sessions Per Week: 3
Program Duration: 8 Weeks
Time to Complete Each Session: 1.5 hours

Written as Reps x Sets
Sets Programmed are Working Sets and do not include Warm Up Sets
Week 1
Day 1
Snatch: 4 reps x 3 sets
Jerk: 4 x 3
Snatch Pull: 4 x 4
Back Squat: 6 x 3

Core: 30 second plank hold, 30 seconds rest (5 Rounds); hold an increasingly heavy weighted object on the back each interval (e.g. 1st interval with no weight, 2nd with 2.5 kg plate, etc.)
Day 2
Clean & Jerk: 3 x 4
Clean Pull: 5 x 3
Push Press: 5 x 3
Front Squat: 5 x 5

Conditioning: Set up a circuit of objects to jump over; perform the circuit 3 times
Day 3
Snatch High Pull: 3 x 4
Power Snatch + Overhead Squat: 3 x 5
Strict Press: 3 x 3

Core: Using furniture sliders under the feet, perform a series of Inchworms across the floor, i.e. start in an upright position, bend at the waist and walk the hands out to a plank position, finish by dragging the feet to the hands
Week 2
Day 1
Snatch: 4 reps x 3 sets
Jerk: 4 x 3
Snatch Pull: 4 x 3
Back Squat: 5 x 4

Conditioning: Perform air squats to the song “Flower” by Moby. When Sally goes down, sit down in the squat and vice versa.
Day 2
Clean & Jerk: 3 x 4
Clean Pull: 5 x 3
Power Jerk: 4 x 2
Front Squat: 5 x 4

Core: Using a standard deck of cards, deal out 5 cards.
Diamonds = Sit Ups
Hearts = Good Mornings
Spades = Russian Twists
Clubs = Kettle Bell Swings

The suit on the card indicates the exercise, and the number indicates the reps. (Ignore face cards.)
Repeat 3 times
Day 3
Power Clean + F. Squat + Jerk: 2 x 5
Deadlifts (no shrug): 3 x 3

Conditioning:
—7 Rounds—
Push Ups and Pull Ups

Before each round, roll a dice. The number on the dice indicates the number of reps for each movement that round.
Week 3
Day 1
Snatch: 3 reps x 4 sets
Jerk: 3 x 4
Snatch Pull: 4 x 3
Back Squat: 5 x 3

Core: Plank Races
Using furniture sliders on the feet, race across the room in a plank position (hands will be pulling feet). Alternative exercise: Wheelbarrow Racing
Day 2
Clean & Jerk: 3 x 3
Clean Pull: 4 x 3
Push Press: 5 x 2
Front Squat: 5 x 3

Conditioning: 5 minutes to establish max continuous reps with a jump rope
Day 3
Muscle Snatch: 3 x 3
Snatch Pull + Snatch: 3 x 4
Dumbbell Press: 5 x 5

Core: Weighted plank hold. Hold a weight on back in the the plank position. Hold for 40 seconds, rest for 20 seconds. 5 Rounds.
Week 4
Day 1
Snatch: 3 reps x 4 sets
Jerk: 3 x 4
Snatch Pull: 3 x 4
Back Squat: 4 x 4

Conditioning:
—5 Rounds—
Box Jumps
Kettle Bell Swings
Sit Ups

Roll a dice before each round. The number on the dice indicates the number of reps of each movement for that round.
Day 2
Clean & Jerk: 3 x 3
Clean Pull: 4 x 3
Power Jerk: 3 x 4
Front Squat: 4 x 4

Core: TABATA Russian Twists

Work 0:20, Rest 0:10 for 8 intervals. Score = lowest number of reps in any interval
Day 3
Hang Clean + 2 Jerks: 2 x 4
Clean Pull with 3-second hold at top of shrug: 3 x 4
Push Press: 3 x 3

Conditioning: Shuttle Sprints

Set up three objects at varying distances from the starting line. The athlete must touch each object, returning to the starting line between touches.
Week 5
Day 1
Snatch: 3 reps x 3 sets
Jerk: 3 x 3
Snatch Pull: 3 x 4
Back Squat: 4 x 3

Core: Cut up 6 pieces of paper and number them 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30. Fold the papers and put them in a cup.

Athlete selects a piece of paper. The first paper indicates the number of reps of the first movement. After that movement is completed, the athlete continues to draw numbers until all exercises are completed:

V-Ups
Toes to Bar
Kettle Bell Swings
Russian Twists
Sit Ups
Push Ups
Day 2
Clean & Jerk: 3 x 3
Clean Pull: 3 x 4
Push Press: 4 x 3
Front Squat: 4 x 3

Conditioning: Using a standard deck of cards, deal out 5 cards.
Diamonds = Box Jumps
Hearts = Pull Ups
Spades = Lunges
Clubs = Dips (using bench)

The suit on the card indicates the exercise, and the number indicates the reps. (Ignore face cards.)
Repeat 3 times.
Day 3
Hang Snatch: 3 x 4
Snatch Grip Deadlifts: 3 x 3

Strict Press: 3 x 3

Core: 100 Partner Ball Sit Ups.

Two people do sit ups facing each other. They pass a weighted ball after each sit up. So, an athlete will be holding the ball every other sit up. The ball must touch the ground above the head of the athlete doing the sit up.
Week 6
Day 1
Snatch: 3 reps x 3 sets
Jerk: 3 x 3
Snatch Pull: 3 x 3
Back Squat: 3 x 4

Conditioning: Partner Workout
Partner A: Holds weight plate above head
Partner B: Lunges

One partner lunges while the other partner stands with a weight plate overhead. The workout is done when the partners accumulate 200 lunges. Partners switch as needed. The weight plate cannot touch the ground or there is a 5 burpee penalty.
Day 2
Clean & Jerk: 2 x 3
Clean Pull: 3 x 4
Power Jerk: 3 x 3
Front Squat: 3 x 4

Core: Handstand Walking or Hand Stands

For beginner athletes, hold a handstand for 20 seconds and rest for 20 seconds, for 8 rounds.

For advanced athletes, do four 50-foot handstand walks, with about 3 minutes rest between attempts.
Day 3
Clean + 2 F. Squat + Jerk: 2 x 4
Deadlifts (no shrug): 3 x 3
Handstand Pushups: 3 Max Effort Sets

Conditioning: TABATA Squat Jumps (air squat, then jump)

Work 0:20, Rest 0:10 for 8 intervals. Score = lowest number of reps in any interval
Week 7
Day 1
Snatch: 2 reps x 3 sets
Jerk: 2 x 3
Snatch Pull: 3 x 3
Back Squat: 3 x 3

Core: Do planks to the song “Flower” by Moby. When Sally goes down, plank with elbows on the ground. When Sally goes up, plank with hands on the ground. The athlete will be in a plank during the entire song.
Day 2
Clean & Jerk: 2 x 3
Clean Pull: 3 x 3
Push Press: 3 x 3
Front Squat: 3 x 3

Conditioning: 100 Kettle Bell Swings. Every minute after the first minute, the athlete must stop and perform 12 sit ups before resuming the kettle bell swings. The workout ends when the athlete completes all 100 swings.
Day 3
Snatch High Pull: 3 x 3
Power Snatch + Overhead Squat: 3 x 5
Seated Strict Press: 3 Max Effort Sets

Core: Using a standard deck of cards, deal out 5 cards.
Diamonds = Push Ups
Hearts = V Ups
Spades = Mountain Climbers
Clubs = Toes to Bar

The suit on the card indicates the exercise, and the number indicates the reps. (Ignore face cards.)
Repeat 3 times.
Week 8
Day 1
Snatch: 2 reps x 3 sets
Jerk: 2 x 3
Snatch Pull: 2 x 3
Back Squat: 2 x 3
Mobility: Stretch
Day 2
Clean & Jerk: 2 x 2
Clean Pull: 3 x 2
Power Jerk: 2 x 3
Front Squat: 2 x 3
Mobility: Stretch
Day 3
Power Clean + F. Squat + Jerk: 2 x 5
Russian Deadlifts: 5 x 5
Dumbbell Press: 5 x 5
Mobility: Stretch

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By | 2018-01-15T17:14:48+00:00 January 9th, 2018|Coaches Resources|

About the Author:

Susan Friend is a weightlifter, coach, and weightlifting enthusiast. Susan has participated in both the U.S. and German weightlifting systems, along with her son, Hutch, who holds four U.S. Youth National Championship titles and one German Youth National Championship title.

2 Comments

  1. Matt February 14, 2018 at 9:11 pm - Reply

    I struggle to keep youth In weightlifting, I coach at a CrossFit box. While I am coaching and teaching, crossfitters are running around killing themselves with bad form and loud music. We spend alot of time on learning the snatch, they get exercise from all the squats we do. Only one youth has stuck it out with me for a year and a half. She has 2gold medals and qualified for youth Nationals. I’ve had some talented kids come through, they just get bored to death

  2. Susan E. Friend February 25, 2018 at 5:19 pm - Reply

    Keep at it, Matt! You are experiencing the same struggle as other weightlifting coaches. Weightlifting requires a LOT of discipline, and not every kid is up to the challenge–or interested in the sport. It’s okay. The athletes who stick it out will make it worth it for you. As for coaching in a disruptive environment, it is not ideal, but sometimes you have to push through imperfect circumstances to make the training happen. It is a good lesson to teach your youth athletes.

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