“Real results in weightlifting are born of longevity,” Ursala Garza, Vice President of the International Weightlifting Federation, poignantly observed during a recent Catalyst Athletics podcast.
History supports this observation. The average age of an Olympic medalist in the sport of weightlifting is 25 for men and 24 for women. The average years of training to earn one of these medals is 10.72 years, which means the average Olympic medalist in weightlifting begins the sport around age 14 or 15.
With over 2500 registered weightlifters under the age of 18, USA Weightlifting (USAW) is on track to produce Olympic medalists. If these youth weightlifters leave the sport before they put in the 10+ years of training required to arrive at the top, however, the effort invested in cultivating the young talent will be wasted.
Youth athletes leave sports for a variety of reasons. A major reason is simply burnout.
I spoke recently to USAW Senior International Coach, Danny Camargo, about ways to avoid burnout and retain more young weightlifters in the sport. Camargo knows about burnout from personal experience. He began weightlifting at age 12, and by age 16 he was invited to train as a resident of the Olympic Training Center (OTC). Camargo lifted at the OTC for five years, and then retired suddenly at age 21.
Camargo recalls, “I was burned out. I had been burned out for a year, but I just kept going. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore.”
Within a year of leaving the OTC, Camargo had returned to weightlifting, this time as a coach. Today, Camargo coaches some of the most successful weightlifters in the U.S., including Mattie Rogers, who placed third at the 2017 World Weightlifting Championships.
Camargo draws on experience to help his athletes avoid burnout. Consider some of Coach Camargo’s tactics:
Take a Break. Include rest periods in each program, i.e. periods of time when the athlete does not lift AT ALL. These breaks are preventative maintenance for burnout. Camargo recalls, “In hindsight, if I had been given a month off, I would have returned to the sport. That wasn’t an option for me, though.” A great time to take a break is after a major competition. Camargo says, “My athletes take breaks after each competition. Depending on the level of athlete and the competition, the break may range from a couple of days to a month.” CAUTION: Do not wait until your athlete asks for a break. According to Camargo, “By the time an athlete asks for a break, it is usually too late.”
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500 thousand of you decided to follow me on this weird app, so here’s a nice hookgrip video that I was going to post anyway – – – #Repost @hookgrip with @get_repost ・・・ 22 y/o @mattiecakesssss (69kg, @hookgripusa) snatching 101kg/222lb at the 2018 Arnold / AO1 on the Rogue Strength Stage in front of a huge crowd of expo attendees. She wasn’t in peak condition as she took time off after medaling at the 2017 WWC but she was just 3kg off of her world’s total and she managed to take 1st in the Sinclair to win Best Female Lifter.
Change Your Environment. Take your training to a different location once in a while. A change of scenery–a different coach, athletes, or gym–can rejuvenate a lifter. Contact a coach you trust and ask if your athlete can train with him or her for the evening. I gave this suggestion a try. I contacted Ed Molinos, a friend and coach, and asked him to train Hutch that evening along with his team. I handed Hutch his training plan and left. At the end of the evening when I returned, Hutch was jerking seven kilos more than he had ever done.
Bring In New People. Invite people–friends, parents, neighbors, newspaper reporters–to watch your lifters. Whether they admit it or not, weightlifters LOVE an audience. Rejuvenate your athletes by giving them opportunities to show off without the pressure of a competition. Alternatively, allow guests to drop-in and lift next to your lifters or invite guest coaches to visit. Any set of new eyes will inspire your lifters train at their best. BONUS: A training session with an audience is not work; it is a performance.
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1st of 5 sessions with a group of @olyconcepts Satellites from the the Midwest. Thank you @athleteinc_ for letting me fly out to train some of my remote athletes at your place. Can’t thank you enough. It’s going to be a long several days of a training camp for them. #satelliteathletes #itravelformyathletes #competitionprep #coaching #perksofthejob #ilovemyjob #barbell #trainingcamp #snatch #clean #jerk #olympiclifting #olyconcepts
Program Mental Breaks. Coach Camargo explains: “I program athlete’s choice days into my plans. On these days, I allow each athlete to choose a movement to work on. The athlete can choose any number of rep and sets. The only rules are that the athlete cannot work on a weakness, and they cannot max out on a lift.” Camargo continues, “These days are so much fun. The athletes joke around with each other, cheer each other on, and just enjoy training. Physically they are training, but mentally they are taking a break.”
Do Fun Things. A coach of youth athletes must constantly think outside the box. Youth weightlifters need proficiency in jumping, pushing, and pulling. An athlete can improve in these areas via squats, presses, and deadlifts. An athlete can also improve in these areas via jumping onto platforms, performing handstand pushups, doing farmer carries, or any number of other exercises. Keep things interesting by mixing up the training. For ideas, see 5 Fun Weightlifting Games.
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You asked, so here it is, a #tbt 4 years ago to one the vids that got it all started….#olynastics Repost from @camargo_oly using @RepostRegramApp – Taking #olynastics a step further. Don't try this at home. Just playin' 'round after a training session. Thanks @mattiecakesssss for agreeing to this one. @olyconcepts
Lighten Up. Camargo recalls the details of his retirement: “When I retired and returned home, everyone was calling me and telling me that I was making a mistake. However, I was so happy that I didn’t have to wake up early, skip out on social activities, weigh-in, eat certain foods. It felt great. I had freedom. I don’t think any athlete should experience this, ever. Retirement should not feel like this.” Consider the sacrifices your athletes are making. Are they missing school or family events to train? Are they constantly on a diet? Do they have free time to spend with their friends? Encourage your athletes to participate in activities outside the gym. And if they are not prepping for a big competition, don’t lecture them about that bag of candy beside their training platform.
Feature Photo Credit: Ryan Paiva, Lifting.Life