It’s very easy to become completely consumed by how much weight is on the bar. Even me, although I’m not an ‘ego-lifter’, I still care about the amount of weight I am lifting. Although I don’t compare the weights I lift with the weights other people lift, I do compare the weight I am lifting to what I was lifting before. My big focus is actually what I am lifting now compared to what was I lifting last week, last month, last year… etc.
The problem is, lifting isn’t as simple as this! You can’t just go up and up in weight for every exercise, every workout, every single time. Here I provide some other strategies you can use to measure your performance and have peace of mind that you are improving, even if the weight isn’t necessarily going up.
Number of missed repetitions
This is very, very, very useful gauge of how you are doing. Indeed, in fact this is one of the most accurate and most motivating ways for me personally to keep in check with how my lifting is going. This strategy is particularly revelant for the two main lifts, the snatch and the clean and jerk. This is because these are highly technical lifts and people have a tendency to miss snatches and clean and jerks due to technical errors, rather than weight. These lifts are also difficult to ‘save’ in comparison to non-Olympic lifts.
With snatches and cleans and jerks (clean and jerks done together, or separately), I tend to do low reps – usually one, sometimes two – and lots of sets. Each session I monitor how many of the reps I miss. A good aim is to never miss more than 10% of your Olympic lifts in any workout. If you are missing more than 10%, it suggests that your technique is off or that the weight is too heavy (and you shouldn’t be practising either of these habits as it will promote bad form).
My personal strategy for snatches and clean and jerks is that being able to consistently make a lift is what enables me to go up in weight. So I will do lots and lots of reps at a particular weight, and if I am not missing any, I go up in weight next time.
So take away this – keep track of how many reps you are missing and how many you are making. A ‘good workout’ and evidence that you are improving performance could be that you are making more lifts than you did last time.
This one is my favourite way to track my performance of the Olympic lifts. It’s most effective for the Olympic lifts as these are just generally more likely to be missed than non-Olympic exercises.
Shorter rest periods
Another way you can monitor your performance is by taking note of how much rest you are taking between reps, sets and exercises. An exercise can still feel really hard but if you are only having to rest 3 or 4 minutes whereas before you actually “needed” a full 5, you’re getting fitter and your body is getting more efficient!
This is a less effective method for Olympic lifting due to their technical nature and it not being recommended to do high reps for these, but striving for more reps is a good strategy for getting better for other exercises. You can keep the weight you are lifting the same but for one of the sets one not try to push out one more rep? You don’t even have to do one more rep for every set, even just one more rep for one set, still counts as progress!
Speed of concentric phase
I think this is another good indicator of performance. Sometimes I perform an exercise and it feels extremely slow, non-aggressive and hugely difficult. For example, sometimes coming up out of a front squat feels like a massive grind and can take a good 5 or 6 seconds! When this is going on, my teeth are clenched, I am probably making a loud grunting noise, and I am using every bit of energy to keep my elbows up, push my knees out, drive my hips up, and keep my torso upright!
Other times however… I can very smoothly bounce up out of a front squat with a strong vertical torso in a couple of seconds.
If I am managing to perform the concentric phase of an exercise like the latter, I know that I am improving, even if the weight on the bar is the same.
This strategy can be used for the Olympic lifts too – for example, coming up out of the bottom of a clean fast and aggressively vs very slow or even worse vs from a dead stop (if form is off or with beginners, an athlete may actually end up stopping at the bottom of their clean – I used to do this).
Somewhat similar to the previous point, we can measure our performance and check if we are improving based on what our technique looks like. This is especially significant for the Olympic lifts. Filming your snatches and clean and jerks can be really helpful. You could be lifting a massive weight but have a massive technical error in your snatch – which although isn’t limiting you now, it will as the weight goes up. In this case, my advice would be to go back down in weight in order to correct that technical error, before increasing the weight again.
Checking your snatches and clean and jerks for good technique can be a far more helpful and more sustainable long-term gauge of performance, as opposed to just aiming to lift more and more weight. It’s hugely motivating too to watch your own video back and see yourself performing a technically brilliant snatch/clean and jerk regardless of what the weight is!
In summary, getting stronger isn’t as straightforward as just putting more and more weight on the bar and it’s not a realistic goal to just hope to be able to put more and more weight on every time. There are other ways we can track performance, some of these are listed in this article. I hope they motivate you a bit!