How Long Does it Take to Progress at Olympic Weightlifting?
Updated: Jan 26
As a weightlifting coach and educator, "how long does it take to progress at weightlifting" is a question I get asked A LOT, and with good reason, it makes sense to have a reasonable estimate of how long something is going to take.
Believe me, when I began lifting it was something I spent a great deal of time looking into. The problem is that it’s also an incredibly difficult question to answer, and if you’ve got a few minutes I’ll explain why. Also, before I forget, I've put together a free 40-minute training on developing strength and weightlifting technique as efficiently as possible, which you can check out here.
Defining Progress - How Do You Progress in Weightlifting?
At its heart the sport of Olympic Weightlifting is a sport of two lifts, the snatch and the clean & Jerk, both of which are performed to a maximum. With this in mind your progress is simply judged by the amount of weight you can lift in those two movements. HOWEVER, things get a tad trickier when we factor in technique and consistency.
Let’s say you do a 12-week training block focused on technique. Before the block you got insanely psyched up and fluked an 80kg Snatch. After the block you still only hit an 80kg snatch (unlikely yet possible), but this time your movement is much better technically. What’s more you can hit that 80kg snatch reliably across the week. If you just judge your progress by the raw numbers then you haven’t improved, but your technique and consistency will have massively progressed. (And as we all know, technical improvements quickly lead to big personal records in your next training block)
With this in mind, we really have to look at progress in a more holistic way.
Progress can mean...
New Rep Maxes (5 rep max, 3 rep max, 2 rep max etc)
New Maxes on Variations (Hang, Power, Block)
More total sets and reps at a given weight
More consistency at a given weight
How Strong Should I Be After a Year of Lifting?
As a coach, I get asked this question all the time, and to be 100% honest with you there's no easy answer because it depends so much on the individual. You might be someone who struggles to gain strength, and just barely manages to squat 80-100kg after a year of good training. On the other hand, you might be someone who responds INCREDIBLY well to training like Clarence Kennedy, who went from clean and jerking 45kg at age 15 to snatching 100kg at age 16.
Factors Affecting Rate of Weightlifting Progress
The next issue we encounter is that a number of factors play a huge role in determining how fast you’re going to progress in the olympic lifts. Here are just a few of them:
Training History: Perhaps the biggest single determinant of success is your previous training and general physical preparedness. Let’s look at two example lifters here. Lifter A (we’ll call him Al) has been active since childhood, did gymnastics for ten years then transitioned into general strength training under a great coach for five years. Lifter B on the other hand (we’ll call him Bal) sucked at sport as a kid. He’s never set foot in a gym and olympic weightlifting is the first physical activity he has ever taken part in. Hopefully, it’s pretty obvious which lifter is going to make faster progress. Luckily life isn’t just black and white, so consider lifter A and lifter B as poles on a spectrum onto which you yourself will sit.
Time available to train: Even more obvious, if you can put more hours and more training sessions into olympic weightlifting, you’ll get better faster. As a beginner this doesn’t have to mean more heavy sessions, just a few more light technique drills can make a massive difference. (if you read my article on SRA and How it Applies to Weightlifting then you’ll know why)
Age and Lifestyle: I group these two together because they both basically equate to the same thing, your ability to recover from hard training sessions. I don’t think anyone is going to argue that a 60-year-old is going to have a harder time recovering than a 20-year-old. With that said, if the same 20 year is going out and getting smashed every weekend and eating garbage during the week then I’d put my money on the 60 old to be recovering quicker. Put simply, if you’re eating right and sleeping right you’ll progress faster (and as a coach this is pretty damn hard for me to control – not impossible mind you – though restraining order’s are a b!tch)
‘Coachability': Brutal honesty here, some people are just more coachable than others. Being a coachable athlete is all about knowing when to ask pertinent, useful questions and when to STFU and do as you’re told. Asking how to perform an exercise or to clarify a programme is good, and I 100% encourage it. On the other hand, asking if you can perform such and such exercise because you’ve seen some chinese dude on youtube doing it, hells nope! There comes a time when you’ve got to trust your coach, trust the programme and focus your efforts on recovery.
Genetics: As hard as it might be to accept, some people are just lucky enough to be well suited to the sport of weightlifting. If you’re short, muscular and have massive hands then you’re off to a good start. Similarly if you’re naturally predisposed to explosive type activities due to your dominant muscle fibre type then you’re off to a good start. With this said, there’s nothing saying you can’t be an amazing weightlifting even with sub-optimal genetics. At the end of the day your results will predominantly be dictated by your own effort and commitment.
Weightlifting Results Timeline
A better way to think about the timeline of weightlifting progress is as a learning model. Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence. You suck but you don't really know how or why you suck. Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence: You still suck, but now you're aware of it and can work to improve.
Stage 3: Conscious Competence: With enough thought and effort you no longer suck, in fact you're pretty decent. Stage 4: Unconscious competence: You're good, so good that you don't even need to think about what you're doing.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Does it Take a Woman to See Results from Weightlifting?
Everything we've talked about so far applies equally to both men and women. The only difference I've seen as a coach is that female weightlifters tend to need to incorporate more upper work strength work to ensure continued progress.
Does Weight Training or Weightlifting Get Easier?
Yes and no. Yes, because as you get stronger the weights you used to lift now feel light as a feather, which is cool. But also no, because the weights you're lifting now are so much heavier than before that they cause much more fatigue.
Can You Achieve Weightlifting Results After 1 Month?
That all depends on how you define results. In one month you can get slightly stronger, and make some small refinements to your technique. Both of which are good results. With that said, you can't go expecting to be winning any international competitions just because you've lifted weights for a month. Weightlifting is a long term sport, so start thinking in terms of years.
Summary - The Problem of Comparison
Now, with all of the above factors considered it seems silly to compare ourselves to other lifters doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the human condition is one of constant comparison, we judge, evaluate and compare on a daily basis. With this in mind, I can hardly ask you to stop comparing yourself to other lifters. However what I do ask is that you be aware of the differences between your own personal situation and theirs. Don’t get disheartened that you’re not progressing as quickly as the genetically gifted twenty-year-old ex-gymnast who is training and easily recovering from 6 sessions per week. Similarly don’t go getting all superior over lifters you’re lucky enough to be in a different situation to.
In short, take everything with a pinch of salt, and train to become the strongest weightlifter that YOU can be.
Right, hopefully that’s cleared up a pretty tricky topic for you all. If you’ve got any questions or want to discuss the topic further just drop me a message below.
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'Til Next Time