Last week, I mentioned my new weightlifting training/programming with coach Leo Isaac. Leo (don’t dare call him “coach” or “sir”) is a very accomplished lifter and an even more accomplished weightlifting coach. As happy as I have been to make some quick progress while working with him, I am honestly not at all surprised at my results so far.
In my previous post, I mentioned that one of the cornerstones to training with Leo is his Book 1 of the Beginner Olympic Weightlifting Program series (which is immediately followed by the appropriately-named Book 2 of the Beginner Olympic Weightlifting Program series which I will be working through very soon). Although I think this book is definitely best used in conjunction with Leo’s online coaching service, it can also be a very good introduction to Olympic Weightlifting for the solo lifter.
Today I want to walk you through this unassuming little pdf/Kindle book and discuss my thoughts on the treasure trove of knowledge that lies within.
Table of Contents
Book Length and Layout
The Book 1 of the Beginner Olympic Weightlifting Program series is not a long book. In addition to that, it somehow feels even shorter than it actually is. However, like many things in life, sheer quantity rarely trumps quality.
With about 65 pages of actual content, roughly half of the text is dedicated to the 24 training sessions that new weightlifters work through while the other half discusses best practices in the sport. Best practices does not directly equate to “what are the snatch and clean and jerk?” in overly detailed, technical terms. Instead, Leo assumes a degree of familiarity with what these lifts are/entail (I mean, is anyone really seeking out such a book and picking it up completely cold on the topic?)
From here, specific aspects of each lift are broken down into individual parts and are explained in concise detail. Concepts like the importance of vertical shins, proper pelvic alignment, barbell grip, and receiving positions for the lifts are all covered.
To be honest, many of these concepts, which were so foreign to me, are expanded upon in such a manner that even if one were following their own programming and only bought this Olympic weightlifting book for these sections, I still think they’d be getting good value.
Overall, while it is objectively a short text, it is densely packed and for 15 Australian dollars (which equates to, like, $10 USD if you prefer Amazon), you could do a lot worse!
Beginner Olympic Weightlifting Program Layout
One of the great things about Book 1 of the Beginner Olympic Weightlifting Program is that you can immediately jump into the workouts. The program doesn’t follow the ever-so-standard model of “here is a bunch of programming! You can get started now! All you have to do before the first workout is look up a bunch of unfamiliar movements and terms, watch some videos, e-mail support and the FAQ, and then you are all ready to go!”
Nah…Session 1 presents exercises and movements at weights that almost any able-bodied person on the planet would be able to make it through. The exercises themselves are all initial progressions of movements that gradually grow in complexity as the days go by. Weights are based off of body weight percentages (at times, a set light weight of “stick”, or “barbell” is prescribed) and are low enough to ensure that correct form is priority number 1…
…and number 2…3…10…97….you get the picture!
In any other circumstance, these light weights would probably be very frustrating for an athlete or lifter with any amount of experience with a barbell. However, because of the demands that the exercises be performed as close to perfect as possible, there is always a large degree of challenge present.
Over the 24-session span, the movements become increasingly more technically difficult and build upon the experience the lifter has gained in earlier sessions. The depth gets deeper when squatting and the hang movements (clean and snatch) start from lower and lower on the body. Full versions are finally incorporated in the final days of the beginner Olympic weightlifting program.
I was able to progress pretty quickly throughout the program, completing either 5 or 6 sessions each week. Including a 5-minute warm-up (2.5 minutes on the Assault Bike, 2.5 minutes of rowing) and the stretching regime Leo includes in the text, most sessions would take right around 1.5 hours. That being said, actual volume is pretty high with 30+ sets regularly performed in each session.
“Tom, you don’t have to buy jerk blocks!” Leo yelled at me during our Skype call after my wife had the audacity to suggest that we would need to purchase these (expensive) pieces of equipment.
Well, that was a relief!
What’s more, as you can imagine training Olympic weightlifting doesn’t require nearly as much equipment as CrossFit (…don’t get me started on discussing how much it would cost to assemble a gym full of necessary bodybuilding equipment!) Get you some appropriate flooring (or at least a few crash pads) a barbell that spins, some bumper plates (for Book 1 of the Beginner Olympic Weightlifting Program, you don’t even need them to be that heavy!), some clips, squat stands, a box, and a band and you’ll be able to do 90 percent of the programmed exercises.
At the end of each session, there are some more niche accessory exercises that require an ab roller (cheap), dumbbells (not as cheap), and a GHD (…not cheap), but these aren’t regularly programmed and each can be modified as needed.
And those aforementioned jerk blocks? While not perfect a stack of plates easily does the job (I understand that you might not have such a stack of plates just sitting around, but, depending on how and where you train, purchasing a number of plates necessary to create such a stack will probably be your best bet).
To be fair, this isn’t the easiest portion to discuss, mainly because Book 1 is only designed to get one started with Olympic weightlifting. I’m sure the absolute and untrained beginner will make some strength gains (both in the Olympic movements as well as in their squat and other, more general lifts), but as someone who has lifted for some time now, I wasn’t expecting any major gains in such a short period of time.
None of the programmed movements/lifts go higher than 100 percent of bodyweight so if you’re squatting or front squatting your bodyweight for reps, don’t expect any PRs as you work your way through this one!
With that being said, very subtle improvements (which actually took a lot of brainpower and repeated practice to achieve) in areas such as my pre-jerk dip, back arch, and feet positioning, are helping me to position myself for larger improvements to come.
Although I can’t honestly say that prior to starting that I thought to myself “I can’t wait until pre-jerk dip is better!”, I can say that deep down, I knew that these seemingly small deficiencies were holding me back.
Not a PR by any means, but the sounds my bar and feet make in this (very imperfect) snatch performed during Session 24…the final one of the book, are like nothing I’ve accomplished in weightlifting before.
Shortly after I finished Book 1 of the Beginner Olympic Weightlifting Program, I had to prep for the CrossFit Level 1 Seminar. I knew this would involve a few days of classic CrossFit workouts and I wanted to make sure I was “in shape” for them. I spent a week doing CrossFit again ahead of the seminar…
…and the day I got back, I shook out my (now heavily sore and inflamed) legs and immediately purchased The Beginner Olympic Weightlifting Program: Book 2: Session 25 – 48.
The illustrations seem so simple and the Olympic weightlifting concepts presented seem so “basic”.
…but that is why they are effective!
During my week of CrossFit, I stepped into a “box” where I (as well as lifters who obviously had little lifting experience) were tasked with, in 30 minutes(!!!) finding a “heavy complex of hang power clean, jerk, squat clean and jerk”. Very minimal instruction was given for performing this highly technical and highly physically demanding movement.
Attempting this complex a few times (I intentionally kept the weights and attempts low), I realized how little progress I’d ever make with sessions like the one at the “box”. After finishing Book 1, I’m completely convinced that “fundamental” and “technically sound” training will lead to much better and sustained improvement than “heavy” and “complex” training, particularly for technique-less lifters (like me!)
My advice? If you’re willing to put your ego aside for a month, get this book and go through the sessions. Even if you don’t reach out to Leo for online coaching, the detailed instructions and rationale for what you’re doing will help you to improve your Olympic weightlifting.
(and, if you associate “pain” with “working hard”, you’ll be in luck on the days where static holds are programmed…those are hard even with just a barbell!)
What’s more…after reading the book, Fred told me he’s sure he chose the wrong sport!
(Somewhere Tom Emanski is scowling…)