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Adaptation and Loading in Olympic Weightlifting

Adaptation and Loading in Olympic Weightlifting

Adaptation is enhancing the athlete’s functioning capacity due to external loading or adjustment to specific environmental conditions. Both physical and psychological adaptation must be seen as one process. For example, it will have been noted by the coaches that training not only raises the athlete’s status of strength, speed, etc. in Olympic weightlifting, but it effects the athletes ability to ” dig deeper” into reserves of performance.

Training offer the athlete external loading and it is quite obvious that there is a relationship between loading and adaptation. The three laws of training (specificity, overload and reversibility) qualify and quantify loading. However, while these laws are fairly explicit, there are some points which should be emphasised:

  • A high extent of load without the necessary minimum intensity fails to produce adaptation just as much as high intensity with too little extent.
  • The more the amount of loading approach on optimal value relative to the athlete’s capacity at the moment of loading, the more rapidly adaptation takes place, conversely, the greater the departure from the value (either over or under-loading) the less adaptation.
  • If the demands of loading exceeds the athlete’s capacity for adjustment will be impaired and performance will stagnate or even be reduced.
  • The relationship between loading and recovery is critical and they should be seen as whole.
  • While over compensation is quickly transformed to a higher level of performance in the youth and developing athlete, this process takes weeks or months with mature athlete. Each loading close to the optimum will leave behind it a trace of over compensation, but for the mature athlete it is only due to the cumulative effect of  training that improvements come at intervals, and not necessary regular intervals. Matveyev (1965) refers to this as delayed transformation. It prevents the continuous flow of information on the effect of loading that necessary for the optimal regulation of the training process. Progressive adaptation is not therefore easily apparent and only the results of competition or test at the end of Phase 2 or at the start of Phase 3 show whether or not loading has been effective. Periodic checks and test procedures geared to accurate prediction are therefore vital throughout Phase 1 and Phase 2. it is feasible that the introduction of Phase 3, in double Periodization, may provide a most relevant testing procedure.
  • Loading must be systematically and progressively increased. Loadings that remain unchanged are more easily overcome in time and cause less disruption of the body’s systems, but their effect diminishes until they simply maintain a stationary state of adaptation.
  • The rate at which capacity reduces on reduction or cessation of loading is critical to the athlete. Illness, travel during the competition season, examinations, injury etc., all imply disruption of the systematic increase of loading. Moreover, during the competition season, loadings are frequently reduced in extent (and even intensity by some coaches). Again, this represents a break in continuity of adaptation process. The more recent the level of adaptation, the more quickly will it be affected by reduced loading. Long periods of gradual development are therefore indicated. Lengthy transitional periods without training loading are to be avoided and, if the interval between training is too long, the effect of loadings is lost. Finally, attention is drawn again to the relevance of “polyvalent” or mixed approach and the observance of changing training ratio throughout the year.
  • Loading of great extent and slight to medium intensity primarily develop endurance capacity. Those of less extent, but sub maximum to maximum intensity mainly develop maximum strength, elastic strength and speed. While this may be accurate for the mature athlete, the young and developing athlete is affected by loadings in a far more complex way. Consequently, as Harre has noted (1973), the bulk of his or her work which is a low to middle intensity, also develops strength and speed, to a certain extent. But what exactly to expressions like middle intensity mean? To arrive at an explanation, one must first examine the expression “intensity”.

Intensity of Loading,

The intensity of loading is characterized by the strength of the stimulus, or by the concentration of work executed per unit of time within a series of stimuli. Intensity is for endurance or speed is calculated according to the speed in m/seconds or the frequency of movement. For strength the amount of resistance is measured. For exercises to develop maximum strength, etc., the highest possible individual intensity of stimulation is taken as the point of reference, maximum loading being equal to 100%.

Comparison of Terms Used in Describing as % Max Intensity in Olympic Weightlifting

  • Slight        30 – 50%
  • Light         50 – 70%
  • Middle      70 – 80%
  • High         75 – 83%
  • Sub Max   83 – 90%
  • Maximum 90 – 100%

Suggested Standard Intensity in Olympic Weightlifting

  • Low           30 – 49%
  • Light          50 – 64%
  • Medium      65 – 74%
  • High           75 – 84%
  • Sub Max     85 – 94%
  • Maximum    95 – 100%

Density in Loading

The density or frequency of stimulus in loading is determined by the objective of unit, the stimulus being controlled both by its intensity and duration. Knowing this, an optimal density can be established which will allow an evaluation of consecutive occasions per unit when the athlete is exposed to the stimulus, and also the amount of time between repetitions and sets are married to the interval of time between them to create an optimal density. In Olympic weightlifting for the development of strength and speed, work at sub maximum to maximum intensities, 2-5 minutes are necessary between successive loadings.

Duration of Stimulus in Loading

The duration of stimulus is the period of influence of a single stimulus, the weight covered in a single repetition, or total weight completed in a unit. The duration of work in maximum strength and elastic strength, mobility and speed development must not be so long that fatigue reduces the ability to perform efficiently.

Extent or Volume of Loading

The extent of loading is the sum of sets and the repetitions of all stimuli in a training unit. It will be expressed in Kilograms in training (the sum of loading), and in the number of repetitions in weightlifting.

Progressive Loading

Progression, of loading in pursuit of progression of performance improvement’ might in a nutshell, state the whole purpose of training. From the above discussion of adaptation and loading, progression of loading, will be seen as greater extent, higher intensity, longer duration, greater density or increased frequency, or a combination of some or all of these. Loading must always bear a particular relationship to the athlete’s present loading capacity.

Technical and Tactical Training

In technical and tactical training, loading is increased by imposing greater demands on the coordination required of technique. This can be achieved by:

  • Demanding greater speed in execution of both snatch and Clean & Jerk.
  • Requiring technical exactness in an endurance situation.
  • Combining various elements of practice.
  • Changing external conditions.
  • Learning more complex technical variations.
  • Offering competition pressure.

Not only do such practices develop technical efficiency, but they also develop specific physical capacities such as mobility and the ability to make rapid and correct adjustment when a loss of balance threatens technical precision.

Alteration of Intensity and Volume

For endurance, strength, speed and elastic strength, the structure of loading must be altered. The main problem here is to decide exactly the alteration of ratio of intensity and extent from macrocyle to macrocycle, or for the matter from athlete to athlete, in whole range from beginner to the mature. The coach must evaluate the athlete and be able to apply this information to improve the lifter’s status of adaptation.

Beginners in Olympic Style Weightlifting

For the beginners in Olympic style weightlifting, another general principle is ‘fit the athlete to sport – then fit the athlete to sport’. Once this introductory stage is passed, these athletes will achieve more stable adaptation and ultimately a greater improvement in performance if necessity is raised cautiously and loading progression is primarily via more extensive training.

How to Raise?

There are three stages to raise the intensity and density:

i)  Raise the frequency of training gradually for example if athletes are doing training 4 times per week to daily training and then to twice a day training. Units per session may also be raised as per the physical, psychological and mature ness to training of the athlete in training program.

ii)  Raise the extent or volume of loading per training unit, while keeping frequency constant.

iii) Raise the density of training with in the training unit.

As a rule, it is not acceptable to the athlete to bring about these three stages simultaneously. At first an optimal frequency is sought and only when time is limited the coach consider increasing the load via density or intensity.

Increase Loading by Jump or Gradually

Analysis of individual athletes, training has shown that in a linear gradual increase of loading is not as effective as increase by ‘jumps’ space at given intervals. It would appear that such jumps of increased loading, suddenly taxing the status of athlete’s capacities, ‘disturbs the physical, psychological balance’ as Harre has noted (1973), and thereby forces the athlete’s total organism to establish new physical – psychological processes of regulation and adaptation. The time interval between such jumps is again arrived at individually, but several coaches now tie these in with 23-28 days macrocyles. Chronobiology can almost certainly offer great contribute to understanding such time intervals. Obviously, the athlete will requiring some time to adapt to the sudden increase in loading and stabilize his training level, but adaptation of processes and stability do not necessarily advance together.

How Much Increase Loading

The next question is how much to increase loading with each jump, or from year to year. Again there is little to use as a basis for absolutes, but Matveyev (1965) determined an increase of 20 – 50%  in extent or volume from one year to the next year.

On the subject of increasing intensity, personal observation suggests a maximum increment of 5%.

To conclude this discussion of adaptation to loading the basic guiding principle should be:

Step 1: Preparation for training

Step 2: Training for Competition.

There is no doubt that the most rapid development of performance will come from high intensity competition – specific loadings, but where these are used to too great and extent, they quickly wear out the physical and psychological potential of the athlete. The more through and extensive is step 1, the longer will be the amount of time before such ‘wearing out’. Nevertheless, there are occasions when the athlete appears to have gone ‘stale’ for reason that are not always apparent. This phenomenon has critical implications for coach and athlete. The defining of optimal loading for an athlete is critical to progression to of his fitness and maintenance of his health. It demands fine value judgments on the part of the coach. The cycle of preparation, adaptation, and applications must be followed at all levels. Without doubt, the most rapid development of performance will come from high intensity competition specific loadings, but where these are used to too great an extent they quickly wear out the physical and psychological potential of the athlete. This implies a thorough and extensive preparation part of the cycle and emphasises the importance of viewing loading and recovery as a total process.


Khizer Hayat Raja

Sr. Lecturer in Physical Education & Sports

International Weightlifting Coach & Expert

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