Preparing for College Weightlifting

If you love weightlifting as a youth athlete, you may want to continue the sport in college.  Vance Newgard, head coach of the weightlifting program at the Northern Michigan University Olympic Training Site, offers some advice for preparing for life as a college weightlifter:

Northern Michigan University weightlifter, Bret Pfeiffer, caught Coach Newgard’s attention as a 12-year old lifter.

Get Noticed.  The easiest way to get noticed as a weightlifter is to perform well at competitions.  However, competition results are not the only thing weightlifting coaches consider when evaluating potential team members.

Q: I am new to weightlifting but have a strong athletic background.  Will college weightlifting coaches be interested in me?

A: Yes!  According to Coach Newgard, general athleticism and a strong commitment to weightlifting are just as important as high rankings within the sport.  

Says Newgard:

The most successful college weightlifters are not necessarily the kids with years of experience.  General strength training is extremely important.  Athletes should come in with a solid strength base, good work capacity and explosive power, which can be developed through general physical preparation.

Reach Out.  Write letters or emails to team coaches.  Let them know of your interest and accomplishments.  Team coaches can give you specific details of their programs and any available financial assistance.  They may also invite you to visit to meet them and view their programs first-hand.  Says Newgard:

I want an athlete to want to work with me.  I invite them to visit for a day or two and do a couple of one-on-one workouts.  Usually once I do that, they are really interested.  They see the value that the coach can add.

From my point of view as a coach, if I don’t get to know the athlete, I can’t tell if the athlete will be a problem.  It is good for both the athlete and the coach to see if they will work together.

Colleges that currently offer financial assistance for athletes in their weightlifting programs include:

Northern Michigan University: US Olympic Education Center 

Louisiana State University at Shreveport: High Performance & Development Center

Lindenwood University

East Tennessee State University

Brewton-Parker College *

* Newgard will initiate a new weightlifting program at Brewton-Parker College in Fall 2018.

Other colleges with club programs may not offer financial assistance, but they could be a good option depending on your school preferences.

Prepare Mentally.  Being a collegiate athlete is a part-time job.  Between training, mobility, sports medicine, and nutrition, a college weightlifter may easily spend 20 hours per week devoted to the sport.

According to Coach Newgard, the biggest mistake new collegiate weightlifters make is underestimating the time commitment required:

If you are going to do a sport in college, you have to passionate about it because it is your job.  You have two part time jobs—academics and your sport.  You have to commit.  It is not a physical thing; it is a mental thing for most people.  It will be difficult.  You have to really want to do it.

Q: Can I still be a collegiate weightlifter if I have a job in college? 

A: Yes.  Coaches understand that athletes have different circumstances and will try to work around them.  

In Newgard’s case:  

I take an individualized approach.  I understand that not everyone is on a full ride scholarship.  A kid might have to work, go to school, and train.  I treat all of my athletes as individuals and try to help them succeed with their circumstances. 

Prepare Physically: Experience in competitive weightlifting will help you get noticed and may help you get a scholarship.  However, general physical preparation is just as important.  Says Newgard:

Early specialization in weightlifting is not necessary for success at the college level.  I would rather see an athlete who has a strong base of general strength and athleticism than an athlete who is mentally and physically beat up after years in the sport.

As a youth weightlifter, step away from the barbell occasionally and develop athleticism in other areas: run, jump, throw, climb, push, pull, and walk on your hands.  It is fun, and it will improve your athletic abilities.

Develop Good Habits Now: College students are notorious for staying up late studying or partying.  With no parents around to impose curfews, students can easily fall into a reckless routine of overnighters.  These sleepless nights will manifest in the weight room with decreased focus and performance.  Practice good time management skills now to set yourself up for success in college.  Says Newgard:

I expect my athletes to go in a different direction that the rest of the student population.  They have to go in thinking, “I am a student athlete,” and make decisions that support this commitment.  Part of this commitment is getting enough sleep, eating enough, and showing up to training sessions.

Be coachable:  Every coach does things a little differently.  Your college coach will be no exception.  Even if you have been weightlifting for years, drop the attitude and trust your new coach.  It is his job to help you succeed in weightlifting, and he will do that if you let him.  Says Newgard:

If you have doubts about your college weightlifting coach, you probably shouldn’t join that program.  Once you commit, be coachable.  Communicate with your coach if an exercise isn’t working or is causing you pain.  Communication is key to a good coach-athlete relationship.

Feature photo courtesy of Lifting.Life.



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