From Coach Bud: On Training vs. Testing and More

Hey folks, Coach Bud here. Our fearless leader gave me this weekly platform to address things that I feel are interesting or noteworthy about the sports of weightlifting and powerlifting, which I’ve been writing training programs for and coaching for the last 3+ years. Just to clear up a couple terminology issues, “weightlifting” (also called Olympic Lifting, Oly, or Olympic Weightlifting) is a sport that tests 1 rep max is the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk. Powerlifting tests one rep max in the Back Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift. The principles governing training programs for both sports are similar, but not exactly the same, and I’ll be addressing that directly and indirectly in numerous posts. Just know what I’m referring to, because those two terms will be popping up a lot going forward. With all that said, let’s dive in…


Practice, Training, and Testing


Today’s post concerns the ideas of practice, training, and testing with regards to weightlifting and powerlifting. Training and practice are terms that are often used synonymously, while testing takes the form of a “max out” in a specific lift or lifts. Developing a deeper understanding of the differences between the three and where each one fits in a training program will help you to guide your trajectory as an athlete, and pick weights intelligently based on the selection and purpose of the exercise. Let’s start with some definitions:


Practice is any sport specific activity designed to increase proficiency in a competitive movement pattern. It can take the form of the competitive lift; for example, doing snatches with a barbell to refine technique could be an example of practice. It can also take the form of a drill to correct a specific error; for example, snatch high pulls from the launch position to reinforce hip contact.


Training is work that is done to promote qualities that support continued progress in the competitive exercise. For example, squats are a key component of training for any weightlifter. Even though weightlifters don’t compete in the squat, squatting will increase their levels of overall strength, which in turn will allow them to add weight to their snatches and clean and jerks. Strength is the easiest example, but there are many qualities that create a successful weightlifter. Jump training and plyometrics can help lifters improve their speed under the bar, and traditional bodybuilding training can help reinforce ligaments and tendons to prevent injury.


Testing is taking the competitive exercise to the heaviest weight possible. The sports of weightlifting and powerlifting involve taking the competitive lifts to a maximum using three attempts per lift on the same day. Testing the competitive lifts is therefore the most specific exercise for these sports.


These categories are not mutually exclusive. I’ll write out an example of a weightlifting workout below, and dissect it piece by piece within the context of our continuum in order to illustrate this point.


Front Squat: 3 Rep Max, 90% (of 3 rep max) for 2 sets of 3

Snatch: 65-75% (of 1 rep max snatch) for 6 sets of 2

Clean and Jerk: 65-75% (of 1 rep max clean and jerk) for 6 sets of 3 cleans and 1 jerk

Clean pull: 80-90% (of 1 rep max clean) for 3 sets of 5

This is an example of a workout a weightlifter might do in a strength development phase further out of competition. It contains a pretty interesting mix of exercises, rep ranges, and intensities. Let’s dive in:


Front Squat: The three rep max definitely looks like test, but we need to remember that it’s not a competitive exercise, so we can’t qualify this as testing. The primary purpose of both the three rep max and the drop sets at 90% is to build strength, so this would definitely fall more on the training side of the continuum. However we can’t forget that the front rack position is critical for the clean and jerk, so there’s definitely a practice component associated with this exercise as well.


Snatch: The snatches are done at low intensity (percentage), which allows the athlete to use proper technique without the weight being to heavy. These are mainly practice, although any lifting will produce some strength response, qualifying it as training as well.


Clean and Jerk: Although the intensity is low on these as well, doing 3 cleans for many sets will definitely tax the legs of the athlete. Even though these are practice for the competitive exercise, the rep scheme develops a good deal of strength as well.


Clean Pulls: Primarily a strength exercise, but in order for clean pulls to be effective the lifter must be able to stay in the same positions that they create in their cleans. Therefore, this exercise is training the strength of the pull, as well as practicing the technique.


As we can see, every one of these exercises can qualify as both training and practice. I refer to this concept as the training-practice continuum, and it’s how I contextualize the training of every lifter I coach. The training-practice continuum allows an athlete to understand why they’re doing a certain exercise, and pick weights in order to maximize the purpose of that exercise. I firmly believe that understanding the “why” of training has immense value to athletes. Going through the motions is one thing, but understanding the purpose behind them will unlock the maximum potential of any program.


One final note about testing; testing has its place in training, which takes the form of a brief realization phase before a competition. The place of testing is not an unplanned max-out. Testing frequently does not improve your performance long term. Most people will see a temporary bump in their maxes by testing singles for a few weeks consecutively. This is due to increased familiarity with the competitive movement at heavy loads. After this temporary bump, performance will either plateau or decrease, as all the volume accumulated by the lifter has been realized, and they start to lose the qualities honed by training and practice. Unplanned testing is never a good idea. Just say no.


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