Frequently Asked Questions About Weightlifting And/Or The Weightlifting Encyclopedia:


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1. Can't I Tell How Strong Someone Is By Looking At Him Or Her (Aren't Bigger Muscles Stronger Muscles)?

2. My Son (Daughter, Husband, etc.) Lifts Weights, Isn't He Therefore A "Weightlifter"?

3. Aren't Bodybuilders, Powerlifters, Wrestlers, Football Players And "World's Strongest Man" Competitors Stronger Than Weightlifters?

4. Doesn't Weightlifting "Stunt" Your Growth and Lead to Terrible Injuries?

5. Don't Nearly All Weightlifters Take Dangerous Muscle Building Drugs to Perform at a High Level?

6. Why Aren't US Weightlifters (and Those of Other "Western" Countries) Competitive With Those of Countries Such as Russia or China?

7. How Can I Get Started In the Sport of Weightlifting?

8. Am I Too Old to Start Weightlifting?

9. Why do some very accomplished athletes train a given exercise once a week and others multiple times per day?

10. My son is 10 years old. Is he too young to begin lifting weights?

11. Is weight training dangerous?

12. I'm interested in a career in the weight training field. What are my options?

13. Your site and publications have some great information on the sport of Weightlifting, and strength training, but my primary interest is in gaining muscular bodyweight, while my training partner's interest is in losing fat while building (or at least retaining) muscle. Can you give us a simple routine and diet for these purposes?

14. I have heard that simplified versions of the lifts used in Olympic weightlifting competition, such as "Power Cleans", are used by many top athletes in other sports. Why are these lifts popular with athletes in other sports and how are they different from the competitive lifts? 

15. I'm training to improve my performance in a sport (e.g., football, basketball, golf). What advice can you give me? Is there a specific program I can follow?

16. What is the best time of day to train?

17. I'm stuck in terms of reaching my training objectives. I can't seem to get stronger (get bigger, lose more weight, etc.). What can I do?

18. What are the benefits of weight training?

1. Can't I Tell How Strong Someone Is By Looking At Him Or Her (Aren't bigger muscles stronger muscles)?

There is a very weak correlation between the size of a person, or what we see upon visual examination of a person's "muscles" and strength. Bodybuilders, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, Lee Haney and Dorian Yates, have enormous muscles and very little bodyfat, so that their muscles stand out in bold relief. The muscles of bodybuilders are so prominent that some people find them to be "freakish" in appearance. But while bodybuilders are far stronger than the average person, they are not (with rare exceptions) among the strongest athletes in the world. The training that is used to develop large muscles is very different than the training that is done to develop pure strength (which tends to develop the quality of a muscle's performance far more than its apparent size). That is why Olympic style Weightlifters, while being the strongest and most powerful athletes in the world, do not typically have muscles that appear as prominent as those of bodybuilders. The muscles of competitive Weightlifters -male or female, look "athletic" rather than dramatic.

2. My son (daughter, husband, etc.) lifts weights, isn't he therefore a "Weightlifter"?

In a very broad sense, anyone who lifts weights is a weightlifter, but there is really only one very distinct kind of athlete who should be referred to with precision as a "Weightlifter" - the athlete who participates in the sport of Weightlifting as it is defined by sports authorities worldwide.

There are four broad categories of those who train with weights: weight trainers, bodybuilders, powerlifters and weightlifters.

Those who train with weights for general fitness purposes, or to improve their performance in another sport, are typically referred to as "weight trainers". Weight trainers use weights as a means to improve their general fitness or their fitness to participate in another activity.

Those who train specifically to increase the size of their muscles are referred to as "bodybuilders". Bodybuilders focus on maximizing their muscular development, on creating muscles which have a balanced or "symmetrical" appearance and on minimizing their bodyfat, so that their muscles appear highly prominent. Contrary to popular belief, there is little correlation between this unusual appearance and performance (e.g., strength). Athletes with much smaller and less visible muscles can often out-lift bodybuilders by a wide margin.

Those who train purely for strength often participate in a sport called "Powerlifting". Powerlifters compete on three lifts: bench press (lying on a bench and pressing a barbell from the chest to arm's length), squat (bending the legs to a point where the thighs are parallel to the ground and standing back up with a barbell supported on the athlete's shoulders), and deadlift (lifting a barbell from the floor to a position in which the athlete is standing fully erect with the bar hanging from the arms). The name "powerlifting" is quite inappropriate for the sport because power (which is a measure of the rate at which a load can me moved) is of little importance in the sport, rather it is a pure test of strength. Powerlifting is relatively popular in the US, and enjoys some degree of popularity in Canada and a few countries in Europe, but it is a relatively new sport and has a quite limited number of participants worldwide. Because of this, the level of competition in powerlifting is not as high is it is in bodybuilding or weightlifting, which are far older sports and far more popular around the world.

Athletes who train on the Snatch (lifting the barbell from the floor to arm's length overhead) and the Clean and Jerk (lifting a barbell from the floor to the shoulders and then from the shoulders to arm's length overhead) are the only athletes who are referred to by those familiar with the weight sports as true "Weightlifters". Weightlifting is the only weight sport that is included as an event in the Olympic Games - which is why the sport of Weightlifting is often referred to as "Olympic Weightlifting" or simply "Olympic Lifting". Weightlifting is primarily a test of strength and power (power is a factor in this sport because being able to move a heavy barbell relatively rapidly is as important as pure strength). Weightlifters are also very flexible, fast and technically proficient, as these characteristics are important for weightlifting performance as well.

Weightlifting is the most competitive test of strength and power in the world and that is why weightlifters are the strongest and most powerful athletes in the world. Weightlifting is also the only weight sport is which there is a truly rigorous drug testing program to prevent the use of performance enhancing drugs. Weightlifting is practiced is more than 150 countries and there are probably more than a million competitive weightlifters in the world. There is only one governing body for the sport of weightlifting worldwide - the IWF - and only one which is recognized by that governing body in the US - the USAW). That is one reason why the sport is so competitive. When you win the IWF World Championship you are the true champion of the world - there are no other "federations" which each claim a champion (as there are in bodybuilding and powerlifting).

Weightlifting is relatively less popular in the US than it is in many other countries. There are only several thousand weightlifters in the US today. But the popularity of weightlifting is growing rapidly as more people discover the unique challenges of the sport and as athletes discover that the benefits or training on the "Olympic" and related lifts are truly special and cannot be easily derived from other forms of weight training or conditioning training. The popularity of Women's weightlifting has truly exploded in recent years with the advent of the first Women's World Weightlifting Championship in 1987 and the addition of Women's Weightlifting in the Olympic Games beginning with the year 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

3. Aren't Bodybuilders, Powerlifters, Wrestlers, Football Players And "World's Strongest Man" Competitors Stronger Than Weightlifters?

The issue of the strength of bodybuilders and powerlifters has already been addressed in question 2. Bodybuilders don't train primarily for strength. Powerlifters, many of whom are wonderful strength athletes, do not face the level of competition that weightlifters do. This is because their sport is not as popular worldwide and because multiple federations within the sport dilute the number of competitors that do exist - so that there are many athletes who claim the title of world or national "champion" with no means to "unify" the title.

Wrestlers and football players (along with many other athletes) train with weights to improve their size and strength. They often become quite strong. But their strength generally pales in comparison to that of a competitive weightlifters, who devote virtually all of their time to developing strength and power.

So called "World's Strongest Man" competitions are relatively new and sporadic. There are many events which bill themselves as determining the "World's Strongest Man", but there is no unifying organization to establish consistent events, selection procedures are vague, athletes often compete in these events long after they are in their prime and the very best athletes in the various strength sports rarely compete. For example, no world champion in weightlifting has ever competed in this event and it is unusual for a world champion powerlifter to do so (when they do, they normally place very high or win). Weightlifters who have competed have typically placed very high or won, but the best of the weightlifters have never competed and probably never will. This is because the events are often quite dangerous (many competitors have been hurt over the years), the competitions are conducted irregularly, the competitions that are conducted have inconsistent events (many of which are simply silly) and these competitions don't typically draw the best athletes. Therefore, the winners of such competitions are not the strongest men in the world.

4. Doesn't weightlifting "stunt" your growth and lead to terrible injuries?

There is no evidence that participation in the sport of weightlifting hampers an athlete's growth in any way. Sports governing bodies in Eastern Europe (where hundreds of thousands of athletes have competed in weightlifting for many years) have studied the growth patterns of weightlifters versus non-weightlifters and have not discovered any difference. Scientists and medical professionals have postulated that strenuous training by young people might affect their growth adversely, but little scientific evidence of this has not been developed - certainly not in the context of rational training programs conducted under careful supervision.

With respect to injuries overall, weightlifting is as strenuous sport, and any strenuous sport can cause injuries. But the injuries that are normally attributable to weightlifting have little basis in fact (e.g., hernias are rare among weightlifters). Injuries that do occur are generally overuse injuries (e.g., tendinitis) which can occur in any sport in which athletes attempt to progress in their training too rapidly.

The serious kinds of injuries that are often associated with other more popular sports, such as deaths and spinal chord injuries, are virtually unknown in weightlifting (no, weightlifters do not normally drop weights on their heads). Overall, the risks of weightlifting are grossly exaggerated by the general public. When weightlifting is properly supervised it is a very safe activity relative to other strenuous sports.

5. Don't nearly all weightlifters take dangerous muscle building drugs to perform at a high level?

In the 1970's and 1980's, the use of performance enhancing drugs, such as anabolic steroids, became very popular with athletes in all sports, including weightlifting. Use of such drugs continues until today. However, what has separated the sport of Weightlifting from other sports has been its efforts to eliminate drug use. The sport of weightlifting began to test for performance enhancing drugs as early as the late 1960's (when amphetamines was the focus) and testing for the use of anabolic steroids began in the mid 1970's. Drug testing has gradually evolved to the point where very sophisticated urine analyses are conducted by the IWF at every major international weightlifting event. Moreover, the IWF conducts short notice out of competition drug testing around the world and throughout the year in an effort to control the use of drugs in training as well as competition. No other international sports governing body does more to control the use of drugs by its athletes.

The USAW (the governing body for the sport of Weightlifting in the US) has an even more stringent drug testing protocol than the IWF (it is also more stringent than that of any sports governing body in the US). In addition to testing at all of its major competitions, the USAW requires its international level athletes to be subject to testing virtually without advance notice at any time during the year. Such protocols make it very difficult for athletes to use drugs without detection.

Has all of the testing performed by the IWF and USAW eliminated drug usage in weightlifting? Probably not. There will always be athletes who try to circumvent the rules and if they are inventive enough they may be able to do so until the drug testing procedures are enhanced. But the use drugs by athletes weightlifting has dropped precipitously in recent years and most athletes in the USAW do not use performance enhancing drugs of any kind.

6. Why Aren't US Weightlifters (and those of other "Western" countries) competitive with those of countries such as Russia or China?

Weightlifting has not historically been as popular in the US as it has been in other countries. Part of the reason is a lack of understanding and appreciation of the sport, its not being placed in our school systems, poor access to information regarding the sport and a limited number of training facilities in which the sport can be practiced (even though setting up such a facility is relatively simple and inexpensive).

But the US has been more successful in weightlifting than many people think. In the 1940's through the 1960's our men's teams were among the strongest in the world. In recent years, our women's team has generally placed between 2nd and 6th in the world (it placed second at the first Women's Olympic event in Sydney). Robin Byrd-Goad, an athlete from the US, won the Women's Worlds Championship in 1994.  We had two athletes who placed in the top ten at the Atlanta Olympic Games (Wes Barnett 6th, and Brian Jacob 9th) and Wes Barnett came back to win an overall Bronze medal at the 1997 World Championships. The year 2000 was a banner one for the US.  Oscar Chaplin III became the first US lifter in history to win an overall medal at a Junior World Championships. Tara Nott won a Gold Medal at the Sydney Olympic Games and Cheryl Haworth earned a Bronze medal. 

There is no reason why athletes from the US (or any other country) cannot take an even more prominent place among the world's elite weightlifters. They only need the proper information, the determination to succeed and the belief that they can be the best!

7. How can I get started in the sport of Weightlifting?

You should consult the Organizations and Resources page of this Web site for a wide variety of information and materials that can be of assistance. At a minimum, all prospective athletes and coaches should join USA Weightlifting  , the governing body for the sport of Weightlifting in the US (see the aforementioned "Organizations and Resources" page of this Web site for a listing). A membership in that organization will support the sport of Weightlifting, make you eligible to to participate in certain USAW events and provide you with a subscription to Weightlifting USA, the official publication of the USAW. Weightlifting USA provides information on scheduled events, updates in USAW policies, procedures and rules, and some information on training methods. The USAW is also a source for information on local weightlifting activity, including the names and locations of clubs and coaches that may be available in your local area.

We would also certainly recommend that you obtain a copy of The Weightlifting Encyclopedia, which contains more information on the sport than any other single source.Start today!

8. Am I too old to start Weightlifting?

You are never too old to begin lifting weights. In fact, the older you are, the more important it is that you do so. This is because while a young person will become stronger with age, once a person reaches the age of about 30, he or she begins to lose strength gradually, the rate of loss increasing with age (the average untrained person loses approximately 50% of his or her lifetime maximum strength by by the time the age range of 75-80 has been reached). A person who continues to train may be able to reduce that strength loss by about half of what it would have otherwise been (so instead of losing 50% of ones strength by age 80, one might only lose 25%). Naturally, if that person never trained at all, he or she could actually become stronger at an advanced age than he or she was at 25. Moreover, recent research has shown that the rate of improvement made by those who begin training late in life is about as rapid as that of youngsters - these older athletes merely begin training at a lower performance level. I have seen athletes begin competitive weightlifting in their 40's, 50's and later, and become quite successful in "Masters" (age division) competition.

How should the older athlete begin?  First, one should always have a medical exam before one begins any exercise program. I would recommend that a prospective weightlifter seek an examining physician who is familiar with the benefits of resistance training for the mature population and who understands the nature of the exercise that you intend to undertake (physicians who are unfamiliar with the benefits of resistance training may unnecessarily discourage the older patient from beginning a resistance training program). Once you have been cleared by your physician, you should seek the guidance of someone who is familiar with training the more mature population (and, if you are interested in the sport of Weightlifting, you should seek the advice of a knowledgeable coach).

At the outset, the new weightlifter should be particularly aware of several limitations. First, older athletes tend to be less flexible than younger ones. After carefully assessing ones readiness to perform a particular exercise (from the standpoint of flexibility) one should train to achieve the requisite flexibility before attempting to perform that exercise (partial versions of the exercise can be performed while training for adequate flexibility - e.g., one can power snatch if he or she cannot assume the low snatch position at the outset). Flexibility, like strength, can be increased significantly - regardless of ones age.

A second limitation is that older athletes become injured more easily and recover from injury more slowly than younger ones. Consequently, the older athlete must begin very conservatively by using weights that are relatively light, performing only one set per new exercise for the first couple of weeks and limiting the number of exercises to a few each workout. The amount of weight lifted can be increased each workout for the first few weeks and after a couple of weeks another set can be added. After about two more weeks, another set can be added (for a total of three). The exceptions to this set pattern are exercises performed to develop the actual technique of the competitive lifts themselves. Here one might do as many as three sets of each exercise in the first couple of weeks and then add one. Then, two weeks later, add another set (for a total of 5 sets). But a stick or empty bar is to be used for these exercises in the early stages (hence the rationale for performing more sets).

While some soreness is difficult to avoid following the initial training session, if you are getting sore after each workout you are probably doing too much and should reduce the weight or reps performed on each set until the soreness abates. If soreness arises in later weeks, consider reducing the number of sets performed. However, missing workouts entirely because of soreness is generally not as good an idea as training through the soreness (but at a lighter load). Doing so will typically help to eliminate soreness more rapidly than pure rest. The exception to this is joint pain. Such pain is not generally helped by weight bearing exercise but rather benefits from complete rest or mild mobilization exercises (and if joint pain is substantial it should be addressed by a physician).

If you are training properly, you should feel somewhat better each week (though not necessarily each workout). Training with weights 2-3 times per week is sufficient for the more mature athlete (with the exception of flexibility work, which can be done virtually every day - although even here I'd rest at least one day a week altogether). The athlete can also train as much as 4-6 times per week if he or she does a given exercise no more than 2-3 times per week (e.g., one might work the arms, chest and abdominal muscles on Tuesdays and Fridays and the legs, hips and back on Mondays and Thursdays). You should also not feel totally exhausted after each workout and your muscles should not be trembling or cramping after each workout. If this is occurring, you are doing too much too soon. Remember, you did not get out of condition in a day, a week or a month. Similarly, you will not get in condition overnight. Use the extra time that you have in the beginning of your training (because of the short workouts) to learn about the sport by observing more experienced athletes, talking to them and reading about the sport. Give your body a chance to catch up to your mind. The older athlete should also employ mental technique practice to speed up the learning of proper technique without spending more time with the weights themselves. This kind of training can take place every day.

From the very outset keep a careful training log. Record every exercise, every set and rep and use the log as a diary to record what you learn about training and technique, from your observations of other athletes and from your observations about your own mind and body. Your log will become your best source of information about how you respond to your training and your inspiration (as it will remind you how far you have come). Do not neglect it.

Another area to consider is "Masters" competition. This is age grouped competition for athletes age 35 and older. Masters competitions have 5 year age brackets (e.g., 35-39, 40-44) as well as weight classes. Therefore, you are always competing against athletes your own size, age and gender. While competition should not be the primary reason for mature athletes to train, many older athletes find that the challenge of preparing for a competition gives them something extra to strive for in training and therefore helps them to stay in shape.

Finally, keep your training up no matter what (short of medical reasons). As you age it very easy to lose what you have gained from training very rapidly. Today you can always find a gym to do something no matter where you travel or how odd your hours. Only through steady training can you hope to improve and to retain what you have gained. I have seen some (though not most) young athletes take a  break from training and retain most of what they have lost (or recover it rather quickly upon the resumption of training). More mature athletes are not so lucky, especially those who begin late in life. Gains come slowly but losses come quickly.

If you must break from training for a time then you must also come back gradually, much as you started. Even when I was in my prime and full squatting more than 600 lbs., I would take my first workout after not squatting for some time with a mere 50 lbs. The second workout would be 100 lbs. and it would be weeks before I would begin to push into the 500 plus range. Could I have come right back to 500 or more? Yes, I could and did on more than one occasion. The result? A long term injury one time, and stagnation for weeks on another occasion. On both occasions a gradual progression would have gotten me to the same ultimate point faster and more safely.

So begin at any mature age, the sooner the better. However, exercise proper caution. If you do so, you will be rewarded with better health and strength - and you'll have a lot more fun as well.

9. Why do some very accomplished athletes train a given exercise once a week and others multiple times per day?

You raise a very valid and important question regarding training frequency as this is a topic of much debate among weight trainers. The topic of training frequency is discussed on pages 144-146 of the book. In essence, there is considerable leeway in this area. Some athletes can have as much as a week, or even a bit longer, between workouts on the same or a similar exercise and still improve in that exercise. At the other extreme, it  is also possible for an athlete to train multiple times per day on the same exercise and to improve, once he or she has built up the conditioning to do so. However, my contention is that, for developing pure strength, daily or greater frequency of training on a given exercise is generally unnecessary. In addition, because it is unnecessary, it places the athlete at an unnecessary risk for overuse injuries - so I don't recommend it.

The situation is a somewhat different one when it comes to training on the classic Olympic lifts, because they involve considerable skill. Generally, more frequent practice of a skill improves it. Consequently, training the classic lifts every day is much more defensible than doing so in pure strength exercises. In this case, the athlete may increase the risk of overuse injury but there is a benefit from added skills practice - so there is a tradeoff. The question for the coach and the athlete is where to make the trade off for that particular athlete. Too little practice and the athlete will not perfect his or her technique, but too much practice and the athlete may incur overuse injuries that will keep the athlete from practicing for a time. If the athlete trains through the pain he or she may worsen the injury and/or inadvertently alter his or her technique to compensate for the pain. Obviously, neither of these outcomes are desirable.

In my opinion, most serious Olympic lifters squat far too often. I haven't seen any benefit from squatting more than 3 times a week and many athletes make their best progress in the squat doing them 2 times per week (especially when squat cleans and snatches are being performed during the week as well).

Much of the issue of training frequency is connected with the repetitions and intensity used in training. For example, athletes who perform singles in the squat will often be able to train more frequently than athletes who perform multiple reps at similar relative intensities. Many athletes who perform three to five reps for multiple sets with medium weights, or for one set with heavy weights, will benefit from squatting 2-3 times per week. Many of the athletes that I train go heavy only once per week (older athletes only every 10 to 14 days) with the other days consisting of multiple sets with light to moderately heavy weights.

10. My son is 10 years old. Is he too young to begin lifting weights?

This is a very controversial question without a simple answer. The vast majority of medical and sports professionals are not in favor of pre-pubescent weight training or weightlifting. Because little, if any, carefully controlled research on this subject has been conducted, such positions are often not evidence based. In order to answer the question conclusively, longitudinal studies (studies of at least two populations over many years) would have to be conducted. In this case, the study would have to examine a group of children who lifted weights when they were very young, versus a group of children that did not. Moreover, in order to control for other variables, the children who lifted weights, and those who did not, would be needed over the balance of the study, to be randomly distributed in terms of later life activities - a very unlikely scenario.

In the meantime, those in the "don't lift weights when you are young school" generally argue from three main points of view. First, because the growth plates, bones and other areas of a child's body are developing through the pre-pubescent pubescent years, and trauma during this period can have effects on long term growth, weight training presents a risk. There is certainly evidence that children who suffer traumatic injuries to their growth plates may suffer adverse affects to their growth and development. It is possible that damage may occur to those who perform very heavy work over a sustained period during their growth years, though the evidence here is very limited and speculations in this area have generally been derived from studies of heavy child labor.

Second, there is the concern that children are known to take risks in their athletic endeavors, because of competitive urges, lack of awareness of their limitations, or even parental pressures. They also lack the motor skills of an adult.  Consequently, children may try to lift heavy weights and sustain a serious injury. 

Third, it is generally believed that children will have only limited strength gains due to weight training (they will learn to exert force more effectively - a neurological phenomena - but their muscles will not grow significantly because of hormonal and other developmental factors). Consequently, the value of such training is limited in prepubescent youth.

All of the above arguments have some validity and could be applied to an extent to athletes who are going through puberty as well . However, their are counter arguments as well. While overloading the body of a young person can never be justified, the principle that the body adapts (within limits) to applied stimuli, suggests that the application of progressive resistance to the body may assist the developing body in growing optimally. For example, it may well be that resistance, applied judiciously, will assist the young body in optimizing the development of muscle strength, coordination, bone density, etc. during its growth. In fact, at least one study reportedly performed in the former Soviet Union, suggests that weightlifting positively (though minimally) affected the ultimate height of young people. 

Second, when carefully supervised, many young athletes seem to enjoy weight training. This activity can be so beneficial over ones lifetime, that early development of the weight training habit may have its benefits (if such activity is purely voluntary). It is somewhat surprising that many parents fear weight training yet often express little concern when their children engage in activities such as soccer (where serious knee injuries occur with regularity) or gymnastics (where spinal chord injuries present a true risk). On a comparative basis, there appears to be a significantly greater risk associated with these latter activities. 

Finally, while such evidence is anecdotal, some great weightlifters began to train at a very young age and they have not seemed to suffer any adverse consequences. For example, 3 time Olympic Weightlifting Champion, Naim Suleymanoglu, reportedly began strenuous training at the age of 10. He is now over the age of thirty and not only seems to have suffered no ill effects from his training, but he made a credible assault on a 4th Olympic Championship after he was 30, again with no apparent problems.

In conclusion, there is evidence and there are arguments pro and con on the issue of whether pre-pubescent athletes should lift weights, and those arguments could be extended to varying degrees to athletes who are in puberty (certainly, there is much evidence that after puberty, those who follow a well designed and supervised resistance training program enjoy many benefits). Therefore, only a child, his or her parents and their physician (who should always grant approval before training is begun) can decide this issue on an individual basis. Whatever the decision, this much is clear. The very young athlete should never be pushed, allowed to use maximum weights, or train very strenuously or for periods of long duration. Such athletes should always be supervised and focus on learning and employing correct technique when they exercise. 

There is evidence to suggest that whatever benefits may be attained are attained from moderate training (e.g., moderate weights, training 2-3 times per week, with a couple of breaks in training of a few weeks during the year). Due to the high adaptability of the young body, the former Soviets found that young athletes who lifted moderate weights actually improved faster than those who lifted heavy ones and such moderate training provides a margin of safety. Second, the training of young people should always be carefully supervised to assure that correct and safe lifting practices are followed. Third, any indication of negative reactions to such exercise must be addressed immediately. In the end, individual reactions to training vary significantly and such reactions must be carefully considered.  

Those who are seeking additional information in this area may want to contact the National Strength and Conditioning Association, in Colorado Springs, CO, as they have produced a position paper on this subject, as well as articles in some of their periodicals. The American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics have also produced position papers on this subject. 

11. Is weight training, dangerous?

While a sound statistical base of sports risks is still being assembled, it appears that weight training, particularly training which is approved by ones physician and carefully supervised by someone knowledgeable about weight training, is among the safest of strenuous activities. Weight trainers rarely suffer the kinds of traumatic injuries that are part of many widely practiced sports (such as injuries to knee ligaments in basketball and soccer, and spinal chord injuries in gymnastics). Perhaps the greatest exception to weight training's safety record is one of the most popular exercises done with weights - the bench press (it should be noted that this exercise is not part of the sport of Olympic-style Weightlifting - a sport which has a relatively good safety record). Fatalities (which are virtually unheard of in other weight training exercises) occur regularly on the bench press, when the barbell falls on an athlete's face or neck. Consequently, bench presses should only be practiced with spotters (fatalities in the bench press occur almost invariably among athletes who train alone). In general, exercising alone is not advisable, but it is absolutely foolish when one is performing bench presses (an exercise who's value tends to be quite overrated in any case). 

12. I'm interested is a career in the weight training field. What are my options?

Whatever your aspirations with regard to weight training as a career, you should contact USA Weightlifting, in Colorado Springs (also at They are the governing body for the sport of competitive weightlifting in the US (not bodybuilding). They offer a coaching course which covers the proper technique of a number of core exercises for strength and weightlifting coaches (squats, power cleans, etc.). They offer more advanced courses as well. This kind of background can be invaluable for anyone who is expecting to instruct people with regard to lifting heavy free weights.
In addition to taking the coaching courses you should consider joining the USAW. Becoming part of the USAW can expose you to competitive weightlifters, who are the strongest and most powerful athletes in the world. Much can be learned from their practices that can be applied to less demanding training needs. And it's nice to support the US's Olympic efforts.
There are a number of potential career paths in weight training. One is to be a personal trainer. Another is to be a strength coach for athletes in a variety of sports and the last is to become a coach of competitive weightlifters. Paying jobs in the latter field are scarce and generally go to those with a track record of producing athletes (volunteer and part time positions are much easier to get).
If you want to be a strength coach, there are at least two organizations you should take a look at. Contact the National Strength and Conditioning Association in Colorado Springs (they offer the most widely known strength coach's certification). The International Sports Sciences Association also has a certification course in conditioning athletes which emphasizes resistance training. The ISSA is located in  Santa Barbara, California.
If personal training is your interest, exposure to the above organizations will definitely help you, but you should also look at certifications from organizations like the ACSM, ACE and AFAA.
 Naturally, all of the above is in addition to any formal education you may receive. However, perhaps most important advice for those who wish to pursue a career in weight training is that you get in the gym and learn about weight training first hand. There are a lot of people who get certified with little background and I know of no certification course that teaches you enough to be really effective if you rely solely on what you have learned in the course. That takes experience, preferably gained under the watchful eye of someone who has been at it for years. Good luck in your career.

13. Your site has some great information on the sport of Weightlifting, and strength training, but my primary interest is in gaining muscular bodyweight, while my training partner's interest is in losing fat while building (or at least retaining) muscle. Can you  give us a simple routine and diet for these purposes?  

The training program and dietary regime one employs will determine whether one gains or loses weight and the degree to which muscle will be built. These subjects are too involved and individualized to provide a quick answer. But if you are interested purely in bodybuilding you would be wise to consult a books dedicated to this subject in order to get the overall information you need. Two books that I recommend are: The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hardcore Bodybuilding, by Frederick Hatfield. Both have a great deal of useful information and should give you what you need to approach your bodybuilding goals intelligently.  

14. I have heard that simplified versions of the lifts used in Olympic weightlifting competition, such as "Power Cleans", are used by many athletes in other sports. Why are these lifts popular with athletes training for other sports and how are they different from the competitive lifts? 

The competitive lifts take considerable time to learn and master. Consequently, many athletes in other sports, who wish to develop some of the unmatched strength and power of competitive lifters, practice simplified version of those competitive lifts. The most common examples are Power Cleans and Power Snatches.  In both of these lifts, the bar is lifted from the floor in exactly the same way as in the competitive lifts, but when the lifter receives the bar on the shoulders (in the Power Clean) or overhead (in the Power Snatch) the legs are bent in a partial squat (not the full squat that competitive lifters use in competitions).  The weights that can be handled in these "power" versions of the lifts are lower (typically 10-20% lower/lighter) than can be managed in the full competitive style, because the bar must be lifted higher (the bar rises to a higher point because the weight is lighter, not because the lifter raises the barbell in a different way - in fact, competitive lifters endeavor to maintain the same style in lifting or "pulling" the bar in the power versions of the lifts as in the competitive versions). 

However, athletes who think they can simply do crude versions of Power Cleans and Power Snatches and gain their benefits are mistaken. Proper style must be mastered if these lifts are to be done safely and effectively and that only comes with practice (beginning with light weights and progressing very gradually) - supervised by someone who is knowledgeable in this area. This supervision is particularly important for the beginner both for safety reasons and because early feedback on technique helps to build correct habits from the start (correcting mistakes later is much more difficult).

15. I'm training to improve my performance in a sport (e.g., football, basketball, golf). What advice can you give me? Is there a specific program I can follow?

Weight training has proved to be invaluable to millions of athletes worldwide. Today, it is hard to find a top notch athlete who does not train with weights, at least to some extent. However, many athletes waste time doing exercises that will mainly improve their appearances, or make them strong in muscle groups that are not related to performance in their respective sports. The lifts performed in Weightlifting competition - the Snatch and Clean and Jerk - have been found by many athletes to have a great deal of carryover to their sports (although most athletes do not practice the actual competitive lifts, but rather simpler variations of those lifts, such as power cleans or high pulls). For example, former Atlanta Braves baseball pitcher, Steve Bedrosian, added 8 miles and hour to his fast ball speed when he was in his late 30's by learning and practicing the power clean and power snatch. Frank Stranahan, one of the greatest golfers of all-time, was also one of the best Olympic-style lifters in the US when he was in his prime.

Why are these lifts so effective? There are many reasons. One reason is that they teach athletes to use the most powerful muscles in the body - the legs, hips and back, to impart force to an external object - a key and under-appreciated skill in most sports. Another reason is that they improve the explosive power of the athlete and such power is of value to virtually any sport - generally much more so than being able to bench press or curl a lot of weight. 

The Weightlifting Encyclopedia and Companion Video can be very helpful to athletes in virtually all sports. The book will give you a great deal of background in how to construct your own training program and the video will help you to learn proper technique. However, neither the book nor video can replace instruction by a knowledgeable coach or trainer and we insist that everyone who does weight training of any kind get at least some hands on instruction from an expert.

Constructing training programs is a complex challenge because every athlete starts with certain strengths and weaknesses, a particular state of conditioning and very personal objectives. Therefore, one program does not fit all. Consequently, we do not offer sport specific programs at this time. However, if there is sufficient interest among our readers, we will consider developing an approach to constructing individualized training programs over the Internet.

There are some organizations that may offer sport specific training programs, or can refer you no someone who does. Consider contacting the ISSA (listed in the Resources page of this web site) or the National Strength and Conditioning Association in Colorado Springs, CO.

16. What is the best time of day to train?

There has been little in the way of scientific research in this area, but a wealth of practical experiences suggests that most athletes perform best in the afternoon - though a substantial number do well in the evening and a smaller number in the morning. But performance and training are different things. There is nothing that says training in the morning won't have as significant an effect on the organism as doing so in the afternoon, you may simply not perform at as high a level as you would at a different time of day . In the end, the very best time to train is the time at which you are most likely to be consistent, as consistency is a much more important long term factor in training success than the time of day you do it.

17. I'm stuck in terms of reaching my training objectives. I can't seem to get stronger (get bigger, lose more weight, etc.). What can I do?

Reasonable general health, an appropriate diet and proper rest are all pre-requisites for training success. Once these areas have been addressed, it is training that makes all the difference. While there are really only two major reasons for lack of progress (too much training on too little) figuring out which problem you have and what to do about it can present a very complex challenge. For example, some athletes have benefited from more frequent training (more days per week or even multiple times per day) but others have benefited from reducing their training volume. 

We are working on a computer supported training system that will address these kinds of problems effectively. In the meantime, careful analysis of ones training and systematically altering the training variables (intensity, volume and exercise mix) should lead to resumption of progress if one is patient enough.  

18. What are the benefits of weight training?

Weight training is one of the most effective and important methods known to improve ones fitness, arguably the most important. The benefits of weight training include, but are not limited to,  improved strength, mobility, power, speed, balance,  muscular endurance, even aerobic fitness (especially if exercises are done in a "circuit", with little rest between sets and/or full body exercises are performed for high repetitions). Those who perform weight training on a regular basis (especially if it done in conjunction with proper diet) can improve their cholesterol profiles, blood pressure, bone density, muscle mass and mood, and help themselves to avoid diseases like diabetes. For those who are moving into middle older age, weight training can help to forestall the ravages or the aging process. While there are rare medical conditions that preclude weight training, for almost everyone it  is closer to a panacea than anything that as is known today.      



Copyright 2001 A is A Communications. All rights reserved.
Revised: October 29, 2006