Timing Warm-ups (Excerpted from Chapter 8 - Competing Like a Champion)

Timing warm-ups is one of the competition coach's most important functions, yet it is one of the functions most frequently botched (and I have seen some of the top coaches in the world do it). In planning warm-up timing, it is best to write down all of the lifter's planned warm-ups, including stretching, free-hand exercises, meditation. etc.. Then the coach should back into the warm-up attempts. That is, he or she should determine the lifter's probable starting attempt, and then ask the athlete how many attempts on the platform he or she wants to elapse between the last warm-up and the opening attempt. (Most experienced lifters know this.) Some lifters may like as little as one attempt. (This is rare with today’s one minute rule, because in most situations lifters only have to make their competition attempts; until a few years ago, two minutes were permitted.) Others prefer several attempts to catch their breath and get mentally prepared. Most lifters prefer two to four attempts (since the average time span between competition attempts is 1 to 1.25 minutes, two to four attempts equals two to five minutes). A lifter who "wraps" the knees or uses other protective/supportive equipment—tape, wrist wraps, etc.—will tend to be at the longer end of the range.

The advantage of linking warm-up attempts to the attempts taken on the competition platform is that if the competition attempts take more or less time than was expected, the lifter's warm-up timing is adjusted almost automatically.

Attempts can be converted to minutes, if necessary. As was indicated earlier, each attempt on the platform generally averages approximately 1 to 1.25 minutes (plus or minus fifteen seconds). The actual times vary from competition to competition and at the different times during the same competition based on such factors as the experience of each athlete; the pace set by the announcer, the leaders and the expediters; the distance from the warm-up room to the platform; and how tightly packed the competitors are in terms of proximity of weight attempts. As the competition unfolds, you can adjust the 1 to 1.25 minute estimate based on the actual progression of events.

It must be remembered that the timing of warm-ups can also be dependent on the availability of equipment. If there are several lifters on each warm-up platform, then each athlete may have to wait longer between warm-ups than is preferred (unless it can be arranged for that lifter to work on two warm-up platforms at once). If this is the case, adjustments may need to be made in warm-up timing.

Some coaches try to time warm-up attempts by counting the number of lifters taking any number of attempts before their lifter or weight then on the bar (keeping warm-up weights at the level of the competition bar). Unfortunately, knowing the number of lifters starting before your athlete is next to worthless, since each competitor can have from one to three attempts (the latter if he or she misses twice with a weight that is lower than the weight your lifter is attempting and elects to take a third attempt with that weight). Using a one minute average time per attempt and twenty competitors (none of whom jump their starts up), there can be from twenty to sixty minutes before your lifter starts. Tracking the weight on the bar can be even more misleading than counting the number of lifters. The bar can take thirty minutes to move up 5 kg., or a few minutes to jump 25 kg., depending on how many attempts are being made with a given weight.

Only counting attempts offers anything of real value in terms of timing warm-ups (although even that exposes your athlete to fairly wide fluctuations in timing). Counting attempts accurately is a simpler process than many people think. Nevertheless, it does take some skill and practice to master. In weightlifting competition, each lifter is permitted to take three attempts in each lift. The competition begins with the bar loaded to the lowest weight called for by a lifter and then is raised to the next weight that has been called for once all of the lifters who wish to attempt a given weight have had an opportunity to attempt that weight.

Except in rare instances, even high level lifters have no more than a 12.5 kg. difference between their first and last (third) attempts. Male athletes in lighter weight classes and women rarely have more than a 10 kg. difference between their opening attempts and their third attempts because 10 kg. is as large an increase in weight (on percentage basis) as 12.5 kg. is for high level male athletes in the heavier weight classes. Consequently, it can be assumed that any lifter starting at least 12.5 kg. lower that your athlete will complete all three attempts before your athlete begins. (Remember that few lifters plan to jump 12.5 kg., and even fewer make the first two attempts that will enable the plan to be carried out.) Similarly, anyone opening with more than 7.5 kg. less than your athlete can be expected to take two attempts before your athlete starts. Anyone who starts 2.5 kg. to 5 kg. lower t will surely take at least one attempt before your athlete (unless they change their starting attempt, which some coaches have a habit of doing). When two lifters start with the same weight, the attempt number, the magnitude of the lifter's increase in weight from his or her prior attempt, and the "lot" numbers drawn before the competition determine the lifting order. Getting an initial count in the relatively conservative manner described above makes sense because it is better to be warmed-up a little early than not to finish a planned series of warm-ups. It is far easier and far safer to extend the warm-up sequence than to shorten it.

When you formulate your count of the minimum number of attempts your athlete is likely to have, you should also make an estimate of the maximum number of attempts. This is done by assuming that every lifter who starts before yours (except one who starts with the same weight) will take all three of his or her attempts before your lifter begins. Knowing the range from maximum to minimum (assuming that no one jumps or withdraws from the competition) lets you begin to focus in on what is likely to happen while still being mindful of what could happen.

In the United States, it is customary for the announcer to have one index card on his or her table representing each competitor. Each competitor's card will display that lifter's lot number and body weight and will have a place to show all of the attempts that the lifter makes. These cards are generally arranged in vertical rows, by the order of the competition (i.e., the lifter going next is at the bottom of the row and the lifter with the highest announced attempt is at the top of the row). When there are too many competitors to display in one row of cards, the cards may be sub-divided into two or three vertical rows. Coaches frequently check the cards as the competition progresses, modifying their count of attempts by estimating the number of attempts each lifter whose card precedes their lifter's will take before their lifter is called to the platform. For lifters who have not yet started, you can use the system described above. For lifters who have taken one or two attempts, you need to make an adjustment in your counting methodology.

Generally, any athlete can be expected to jump no more than 5 kg. between the second and third attempt in the snatch and no more than 7.5 kg. in the C&J. Therefore, any athlete taking a second attempt with jumps less than 5 kg. in the snatch or 7.5 kg. in the C&J can be expected to complete his or her third attempt before your athlete goes. Naturally, anyone taking a third attempt with any poundage below your athlete's will go first.

In international and national competitions, there may be an "attempt board" in addition to, or in lieu of, the index cards. This board lists each lifter's name, body weight and attempts called for and taken. During the course of the competition, a person stationed at the board notes changes in attempts and the outcome of attempts (generally putting a line through missed attempts and checking successful ones). These boards can be used to count attempts, but the coach must scan the entire board, mentally noting which lifters have completed which attempts.

When athletes are taking the same poundage, three rules establish the order of attempts. In order of priority, these rules areas follows.

1. Attempt Number: Those athletes taking first attempts go before those taking second attempts. Similarly, athletes taking second attempts precede athletes taking third attempts. If two athletes are taking the same weight on the same attempt, then the next rule applies.

2. Distance From Last Attempt: The athlete who makes the biggest jump from his prior attempt goes first. For example, let us assume that two lifters, A and B, are taking a second attempt with 100 kg.. Lifter A started with 92.5 kg. and lifter B started with 95 kg.. In such a case, lifter A will go first. If two lifters are attempting the same weight on the same attempt number and both lifters took the same weight on their previous attempt, the final rule applies.

3. Lot Numbers: The lifter with the lower lot number precedes the lifter with the higher lot number.

During the competition, the range between your count of the maximum and minimum number of attempts will tend to narrow in terms of absolute numbers. Nevertheless, timing becomes more critical as your athlete's turn approaches. For example, you might check the count again at 24, 18, 13, 9, 6, 4 and 2 attempts. At each checkpoint, try to establish a new maximum and minimum range as well as a "best guess." Have a warm-up strategy planned for either extreme of the range as well for your best guess. It has been said that success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. In counting warm-up attempts, this ratio certainly applies. Knowledge of how to count attempts accounts for a small (though critical) part of the coach's success. The rest is attributable to the coach's willingness to get up from his or her chair and count.

When the athlete has warmed up too soon or is waiting between first and second or second and third attempts, a good rule of thumb to follow is that no more than five minutes should pass between attempts at the bar. If a lifter lacks confidence or looks too relaxed, an extra warm-up with the last planned warm-up weight may make sense. If everything is proceeding according to plan, something in the area of 80% to 85% of maximum is probably a good bet (anything lighter may have too different a "feel" for the lifter to adapt to when going to the platform, and anything heavier may cause fatigue or a miss and undermine a lifter's confidence). If a long (ten minutes or more) delay is anticipated, alternating 60% to 75% weights with 80% to 85% (or higher) weights can extend the warm-up period without creating undue fatigue. An experienced, confident and well coordinated athlete may be able to use weights that are 50% of maximum or less, but this is the unusual athlete, typically one who has used this method before.

Should your lifter be called before he or she is ready, there are three alternative responses: squeeze in an extra warm-up as your lifter is called; forget the last warm-up; or jump the lifter's attempt upward to get more time. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages.

Taking the extra warm-up can be a key to the necessary preparation for some lifters. On the other hand, taking an attempt and then moving to the competition platform can leave an athlete fatigued enough to lessen his or her chances of success on the platform. In addition, if the athlete is nervous about the situation, he or she may miss the last warm-up, leaving him or her both tired and worried. A general rule of thumb is that if you are caught relatively early in the warm-up process (when the lifter would normally have taken at least two or more additional warm-ups) and the lifter will have at least ninety seconds after the last warm-up to take his or her first attempt, it is a good idea to risk the extra warm-up attempt, particularly in the snatch.

Forgoing the last warm-up assures that the lifter will be fresh, though possibly quite worried and lacking some of the coordination necessary to lift maximum poundages. Overall, however, this second approach is better if the lifter would not be able to recover significantly from the warm-up attempt or is so close to an optimal warm-up that forgoing the last attempt will not cause a major problem.

Jumping the opener avoids the hazards of the first two approaches (unless jumping still means the lifter is next and the loaders are very fast in changing the poundage), but it can be devastating if the athlete is either not in good enough condition to raise the start or if he or she experiences excessive apprehension because the start has been raised. Naturally, the best solution to this dilemma is to make sure that your minimum attempt estimate is both accurate and as current as possible. One sign of a developing problem is when a number of athletes with higher lot numbers have listed openers 2.5 kg. to 5 kg. below that of your athlete. Since jumping openers is fairly common, attempts can suddenly evaporate in this kind of situation (just as they can easily multiply with unexpected misses).

Copyright 1998 A is A Communications. All rights reserved.
Revised: February 15, 1998