5 Fun Weightlifting Games

Weightlifting training can become . . . well, boring.  Months of devotion to the snatch, clean and jerk, pulls, and squats can transform committed athletes into zombies.  Shake things up with these five weightlifting games.

Moving Day

In competitive weightlifting, overhead stability is EVERYTHING.  An athlete can execute a textbook lift and not get credit for it if he cannot stabilize the barbell until the referee gives him the down signal.  Build overhead stability with Moving Day . . .

  • Select a variety of objects that your athletes can carry overhead–medicine balls, kettle bells, dumbbells, barbells, yoga balls, wooden beams, athletic mats, anything goes!
  • Challenge your athletes to move the objects–overhead–from point A to point B (about 50 meters apart) and then back to point A.  It is important that the athlete carries the objects to a point and then rotates with the object overhead and carries it back.  Stabilizing an object overhead while rotating will build the same kind of stability needed in competition.
  • When an athlete returns with his object, another athlete heads out with a different object.
  • Continue the relay until all of the objects have been moved.


ALL the Weights

Weightlifting requires a strong back, legs, and shoulders.  This exercise works all three.  Challenge your lifters to make a choice between more weight on the barbell and a higher step-up with this game:

  • Present your athletes with a couple of large stacks of weights.
  • Tell the athletes that they must set up two barbells: one for deadlift & one for overhead carry
  • The remaining weights must be stacked up to form a tower for dumbbell step-ups.
  • The more weight that is placed on the barbell, the lower the step-up platform and vice versa.

Each station is given the following parameters:

Overhead Carry: 100 meters

Deadlift: 5 Reps

Step-Ups: 12 reps holding a pair of dumbbells

  • Rotate through the stations 5 times.
  • This exercise can be done with 1-3 athletes at a time.  The athletes should have similar strength.

Throw the Dice

Timing is an essential element of competitive weightlifting.  A lifter may have less than 2 minutes–or more than 10–between attempts on the platform.  Replicate the randomness of competitive timing with a simple dice game and timer.

  • Set the timer for ten 1-minute intervals.
  • Load a barbell to a weight that the lifter can perform 6 consecutive deadlift reps.
  • Start the timer and throw the dice.
  • Each minute, the lifter must perform the number of deadlifts on the dice, resting the remaining part of the minute.
  • Depending on the number rolled, a lifter will have more or less time to rest in each interval, which trains an athlete mentally for the uncertain rest periods in a competition.

Slippery Pigs

A strong core is fundamental to weightlifting.  Without a strong back and abs, a weightlifter will crumple under a heavy weight.  This exercise–which is my kids’ favorite–builds a rock-solid core, while allowing them to eat jelly beans.

  • Buy a bag of jelly beans/Skittles and some furniture sliders.
  • Lay some paper towels on the floor as “feeding troughs” for your athletes.
  • Paper towels should be placed about 25 meters apart.
  • Direct the athletes to place their feet on the furniture sliders.

Perform 3 Rounds (A Total of 12 One-Minute Intervals)

Minute 1: Plank Walk Forward

Minute 2: Plank Walk Backward

Minute 3: Inchworms

Minute 4: Rest

  • For 1 minute, the athlete maintains a PLANK position, using the hands to walk from one set of paper towels to another.  At the paper towel, the athlete performs a push up and picks up one jelly bean.  The athlete then moves to the next paper towel.
  • On the second minute, the athlete maintains the plank position, now using the hands to walk BACKWARD toward the jelly beans.
  • On the third minute, the athlete performs INCHWORMS.
  • On the fourth minute, the athlete rests.
  • Repeat for a total of THREE rounds.
  • Alternative: If your floor is not slick enough for furniture sliders, you can perform this exercise with other movements, such as Wheelbarrows or Hand Stand Walking (swallow the jelly bean before kicking into another handstand!).

  Super Mario Bros.

In essence, weightlifting is “Jumping with a Barbell,” which makes jump training a beneficial weightlifting exercise.  Try this variation for fun:

  • Set up a 10 station circuit using stacks of weight plates, chairs with PVC pipes, mats, sturdy boxes, benches or other platforms.
  • The platforms should be at different heights.
  • Athletes move through the circuit, jumping on/over various platforms, with minimal rest between each platform.
  • Rest for 2 minutes at the end of the circuit and repeat for 3 rounds.


Sleep vs. Training: Which is More Important?

It is 5:00 AM, and my phone alarm begins playing a soft melody, attempting to gently coax me out of a restful sleep while bluntly reminding me: “You are an adult. This is not a vacation. Get up and face reality.”  I roll out of bed, wake up my son and daughter, and try to put on my best parent/coach face along with whatever workout clothes are on top of the stack.  Weightlifting training begins at 5:15 AM.

Some mornings, however, I do not want to get out of bed.  I find myself questioning the early morning training sessions and wondering . . .

  • If an athlete is tired, is it better to sleep than to train?
  • How much sleep does a young athlete need?
  • What is the worst that could happen if an athlete trains tired?

And I always vow to go to sleep earlier the next night . . . which rarely ever happens!

Recently, I discovered some great articles written by Tuck, a sleep consultant firm, that contain research on sleep and athletes.  Of particular interest to youth weightlifters:

An adolescent athlete needs at least 9 hours of sleep per night.

Thirty-second Snatch Grip Lift-Off Holds are a favorite way to develop the posterior chain. They can be done with minimal weight (50 to 65% of snatch max) and build strength in the first pull.

Sleep allows the body to recover from the physical stresses of the day, as well as process new information and commit it to memory.  During sleep, the body experiences higher activity levels of cell division and regeneration, which speeds up muscle recovery.  The stress hormone, cortisol, is also regulated during sleep.

In addition, during REM sleep, the Hippocampus works to transfer recently learned information to the neo-cortex for later recall.  In other words, you are creating so-called “muscle memory” during REM sleep.  “Muscle memory” is the ability to quickly recall how to conduct frequently performed tasks.  This is important in a sport like weightlifting, which requires fast reaction time.  Fractions of a second can be the difference between missing and making a lift.

The Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine conducted a study in 2014 that found adolescents who played a game after getting fewer than 8 hours of sleep were nearly twice as likely to get injured.  

Lack of sleep can shorten an athlete’s career.

A 2013 study published in the American Academy of Sleep Medicine followed 80 Major League Baseball players over three seasons. Their sleeping habits were recorded before the start of the 2010 season and ranked according to a sleepiness scale. Players who scored high for sleepiness were less than 40 percent likely to still be playing three seasons later, compared to 72 percent of players who scored low on sleepiness.

Growth hormones are released during deep sleep.  

Human Growth Hormone (hGH), which promotes muscle strength, tissue repair and recovery of the body and muscles, is produced during deep sleep.  An natural increase of hGH can be promoted by both exercise and sleep.

Some top-level athletes attempt to gain a competitive advantage by taking supplements of human growth hormone.  However, hGH is prohibited both in- and out-of-competition under section S2 of WADA’s List of Prohibited Substances and Methods.  You can encourage your body to produce more hGH naturally by getting extra sleep.

hGH is a powerful hormone.  Maximize your body’s ability to make it by getting more sleep.

More sleep = better athletic performance.

The researchers at Tuck presented four sleep studies performed on athletes.  In all four instances, increased sleep led to improvements in athletic performance:

  • Swimming: In 2007, researchers asked a group of swimmers to sleep 10 hours a day for six to seven weeks and found notable improvements. Swim times were faster, and reaction times and turn times in the water improved. Kick stroke count increased as well.
  • Football: A similar regimen (10 hours of sleep per day during heavy training) for football players also produced improvements. Sprint times for both 20-yard and 40-yards declined by 0.1 seconds. The players also reported improved mood.
  • Tennis: When women’s tennis players increased their nightly sleep to 10 hours, they also experienced improved sprint times by 1.5 seconds as well as their serve accuracy by 23.8 percent.
  • Basketball: A 2011 study of basketball players found that getting two hours more of sleep each night boosted their speed by 5 percent and their shooting accuracy for both free throws and three-point shots by 9 percent.

Bottom Line: Sleeping less to train more is the equivalent of trying to fill a bucket full of holes with water by turning on the faucet to full blast.  No matter how much water you put in the bucket, you will not make progress until you stop to fill the holes.  Similarly, sleeping less to train more will produce sub-optimal results.  Sleep allows the muscles to recover and rebuild, “filling the holes” of the body’s water bucket, and allowing a weightlifter to make gains.  

If you want to improve your weightlifting performance, try sleeping more!

As for my family, we are going to experiment with 10 hours of sleep.  5:00 AM minus ten hours–ooh, that means bedtime moves to 7:00 PM.  Is it even possible to go to sleep at 7:00 PM?  I will keep you posted.

For more research on sleep and athletic performance, review these articles by Tuck:

Sleep and Athletes

Sleep and Human Growth Hormone

Are You Doping?

Me?  Doping?  Of course not!  I don’t manipulate doctors for unnecessary prescriptions, buy from shady characters in dark allies, or even buy generic supplements.  I only buy brand-name supplements from reputable manufacturers at legitimate retailers.

If these are your thoughts, keep reading . . .

On March 29, 2018, Abby Raymond, a 14-year old weightlifter from Roselle, Illinois, was sanctioned by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) for consuming the illegal performance-enhancing drug, ostarine.  Ostarine is an Anabolic Agent that is prohibited under the USADA Protocol for Olympic and Paralympic Movement Testing, the United States Olympic Committee National Anti-Doping Policies, and the International Weightlifting Federation Anti-Doping Rules, all of which have adopted the World Anti-Doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Prohibited List.

How did a 14-year old athlete get her hands on ostarine?

On February 15, 2018, Raymond provided USADA with an out-of-competition urine sample, which tested positive for ostarine.  In the course of the USADA investigation, Raymond provided information on the supplements she used.

One of the products was tested by a WADA-accredited laboratory in Salt Lake City, Utah.  The testing results confirmed the presence of ostarine, although the label did not list ostarine or any known synonym on the Supplement Facts label.  The supplement was subsequently placed on USADA’s High Risk List – Supplement 411.

So … please … stop reading this article for a second, go to USADA’s High Risk List – Supplement 411and confirm that none of the supplements that you are taking are on this list.

As a result of the positive drug test, USADA rendered Raymond ineligible to compete for three months from the date the sample was collected.  Raymond was also disqualified from all competitive results obtained on and for three months subsequent to February 15, 2018, including forfeiture of medals won and records set at the American Open I Series (March 1-4, 2018) in Columbus, Ohio.

In determining the period of ineligibility, USADA applied the contaminated product rule set forth in its Code, which provides a substantial reduction in the period of ineligibility if the athlete can establish a reduced degree of fault or negligence for the violation and establish that the positive test resulted from use of the contaminated product.

USADA also considered Raymond’s age.  Brad Horn, USADA Communications & Media Relations Director, explained, “In all USADA cases where there is a strong evidence of contamination, the result is a significantly reduced sanction. The typical sanction range for an adult with a contaminated supplement is in the 6-9 month range.  This is the first contamination case we have had featuring a minor. Because of the athlete’s age, the slightly lower sanction length is warranted.”

If you think this could not happen to you, consider this–

An examination of the products placed on USADA’s High Risk List in 2018 include the following product claims:

  • No: Artificial flavors, colors, fillers, binding agents or synthetic ingredients.
  • Manufactured in an FDA Inspected Facility
  • 100% NATURAL

If you spotted a new, all-natural supplement line at your favorite store, with claims that the products would boost your performance, would you buy them?

You would likely research the products and ingredients.  If everything seemed to check out, you probably would buy the products.  You would have no reason to suspect banned substances in the products, and you certainly wouldn’t hire an outside laboratory to double-check the products’ ingredients against the Supplement Facts labels.

The moral of this story . . .

You can get punished for taking a banned substance even if it was a mistake!  Raymond received a three month sanction.  However, other athletes have received much longer sanctions for mistaken use of the same drug.  For instance, in  February 2018, a 33 year-old UFC athlete received a 9-month sanction from USADA for testing positive for ostarine from a contaminated supplement.  Will you get a three month sanction for making the same mistake?  Don’t count on it.  USADA evaluates the circumstances of each situation independently, and you may not be so lucky.

How do I prevent this from happening to me?

Examine the supplements you are taking.  Are you very, very, VERY sure they contain no banned substances?  You may think you are protected by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a government agency that protects the public health by assuring the safety of our food supply.  The FDA, however, regulates dietary supplements under a different set of rules than conventional foods.  Per the FDA website:

The [FDA] does not analyze dietary supplements before they are sold to consumers. The manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that the “Supplement Facts” label and ingredient list are accurate, that the dietary ingredients are safe, and that the content matches the amount declared on the label. FDA does not have resources to analyze dietary supplements sent to the agency by consumers who want to know their content. Instead, consumers may contact the manufacturer or a commercial laboratory for an analysis of the content.

If I can’t rely on the FDA to keep me safe from banned substances, who can I trust?

You are liable for what you put in your mouth.  Period.  Only use stuff you trust.  This is easier said than done, though.  How are you supposed to only use “stuff you trust?”  Are you supposed to set up a laboratory in your basement and test every supplement before using it?!  Surely there is an easier way.

There are a few solutions to this problem:

Do not use supplements.  Brad Horn, USADA Communications & Media Relations Director, advises:

All athletes have a responsibility to investigate the supplements that they are using. From USADA’s standpoint, any supplement use should be avoided, as athletes assume some amount of risk that a product could contain a prohibited substance due to the unregulated nature of the industry.

Look for the “NSF Certified for Sport icon on supplements.  Products that display this emblem have undergone a certification program, which verifies that:

  • The products do not contain any of 270+ substances banned by major athletic organizations.
  • The contents of the supplement match what is printed on the label.
  • There are no unsafe levels of contaminants in the tested products.
  • The product is manufactured at a facility that complies with the FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practice and is audited twice annually for quality and safety by NSF International.

Use only supplements from trusted manufacturers.  This is a viable alternative, but carries some risk. You are relying on personal relationships and trusting that the manufacturer has taken every precaution to ensure no intentional or unintentional contamination of their products.


Finally, remember that supplements are not substitutes for good habits.  Show up to practice consistently, train hard, fuel your body with healthy foods, and get adequate rest.  These habits will take you further than any chemical substance ever could.



















Inside USA Weightlifting’s Talent Combine

USA Weightlifting is currently holding an online talent competition for high school students. The competition, offered at NextWeightliftingStar.com, evaluates athletes on three lifts: the bench press, back squat and power clean.
Big prizes are offered to winners, making the competition worth entering:
  • The top athlete per weight category will receive a trophy and an invitation to attend a camp hosted by USA Weightlifting at the headquarters of Rogue Fitness in Columbus, Ohio.
  • The overall winner’s high school will receive a full set of weights and a barbell, while the runner-up’s school will receive a barbell.

Already entries are streaming in from across the country, with video entries available to view at NextWeightliftingStar.com.

The competition, however, is unlike anything offered before by USA Weightlifting and raises a few questions.  I caught up with Suzy Sanchez, USA Weightlifting’s Director of Development Programs, for more information on the competition:

Q: Why did you decide to hold this competition?

We wanted to create an opportunity for high schools and high school athletes to get involved with USA Weightlifting in another fashion other than through a competition or weightlifting club.  Most athletes fall into weightlifting and thier first experience is usually at a competition in front of a ton of people and that can be off putting for some kids. This is a way for them to join the community without the intimidation factor.  It also gives high schools a chance to win new equipment, which is thier incentive to encourage their kids to participate. Lastly, it’s another way for us to recruit new talent that may not have been exposed to weightlifting previously.

Q: Two of the lifts in the competition are powerlifting movements—bench press and back squat. High schools with strong power lifting programs likely will compete for this prize.  The prizes—a barbell set and weights—may be used to grow a powerlifting program instead of an Olympic weightlifting program.  Why did you choose these lifts? 

These lifts were chosen through a survey we did with the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS). Coaches were surveyed and asked what lifts they used most frequently in the weight room and the three lifts selected came from those results.

Though there are states with powerlifting programs in high schools, there are also states that offer mixed weightlifting/powerlifting programs as well like Kansas and Florida.  In addition, there are states that offer just weightlifting like MN, ND, AZ, and CO. At the end of the day the people that partcipate will have done so through USA weightlifting, and that helps us grow.  If it only affects a few people, that’s a few more than we had before! 

Q: The power clean and squat are both components of the Olympic lifts.  However, the bench press has little transfer to the Olympic lifts.  Why is it tested in the competition?

This is one of the most common lifts that high school athletes use in the weight room.  Plus, it was one of the lifts mentioned in the survey we performed with the NFHS.

Q: The criteria for winning as a school is very interesting.  Basically, the schools with the biggest participation will win the contest, not necessarily the schools with the strongest individual lifters.  Why did you set up the competition this way?

We want schools to enter as many athletes as possible.  The bigger the athlete pool, the greater chance we have of finding potential new talent.

Q: Should high school athletes who are athletic but have little barbell experience attempt this competition?

The lifts that were selected are not as technical as pure weightlifting movements, so I believe that athletes who have little barbell experience shouldn’t have a problem participating.  However, if an athlete is unsure of how to execute the required lifts, I suggest they recah out to one of our coaches through USA Weightlifting’s coaches directory.

Or they can check out one of our clubs on April 14th for Try Weightlifting Day to get help.

Q: What do you hope to achieve with the competition?

We hope to achieve more exposure for weightlifting in high schools, new talent recruitment, and member engagement and outreach within local communities.

If you haven’t already entered the competition, do it!  Talk your friends into participating, too.  The more kids in your school who participate, the more greater chance your school will have of winning.

The competition runs March 14-April 16 at NextWeightliftingStar.com.