Weightlifting Program Design: How To Write Beginner, Intermediate & Advanced Programs


In my last article I described how to program Olympic lifts for field athletes. I want to expand on this topic and give examples of training programs that address beginner, intermediate, and advanced level athletes incorporating the Olympics lifts.   

Before giving examples, there are a few keys points to keep in mind before training. They are:

Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced?

Categorizing athletes is not necessarily based on age, sport skill ability, or inherent strength level. It is based on their proficiency and consistent execution of the Olympic lift technique and ability.

There are several factors to consider before determining the “stage” of an athlete as beginner, intermediate, or advanced. Also, keep in mind there is a range within each level. Athletes will progress through each phase, not immediately change to the next level.


Consider the following:

  • Beginner Level: A true beginner has never tried the Olympic lifts. They require a great deal of concentration and there will be many mistakes. These athletes have yet to develop a tolerance for higher volumes and intensities of training. This beginner stage can last for several weeks. Consistent attention is paid to technique and proper execution.
  • Intermediate Level: At the intermediate level, the athlete has the fundamentals of the lifts mastered (the back remains neutral, the bar contacts the upper thigh, and the arms remain straight when full extension is reached). Some errors do occur and less thought is required to execute the lift. The athlete may stay at this level for years and never become truly advanced. This is fine taking into account that a field athlete is devoting the majority of their effort to sport proficiency.
  • Advanced Level: A truly advanced athlete who has mastered the lifts consistently executes every rep with very few errors, and little thought is required. The fundamentals and advanced techniques are ingrained in the athlete's motor movement abilities. Advanced level of performing the Olympic lifts can often take 1 or more years of consistent practice.  


If you have worked with athletes over an extended period of time, you will notice that some athletes respond and adapt to training faster and reach higher levels of movement abilities than others who perform the same training.

This is termed adaptability.   

It is based on a number of factors including but not limited to genetics, age, anatomy, effort, fiber typing, and hormonal status.

It is worth mentioning that individuals have their own ideal training programming and loading schemes. For instance, a runner may become faster if they do more hill training than distance running. This scenario may not work as well for someone else.


As athletes move from beginner to advanced there is an adaptation process coaches should use that progresses their abilities appropriately. Progressions are typically made biomechanically or metabolically. They can also be created by increasing the complexity of skill.  

Using the Olympic lifts as an example, the progression could be to use “combination sets” once the clean and jerk has been mastered. A combination set is an inclusion of several different movements in one set (i.e. 1 clean, 1 hang clean, 2 front squats, and 1 jerk).   


Here are three examples of a beginner, intermediate, and advanced training program for a field athlete.

Beginner Strength Training for Field Athletes

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The majority of the training session is focused on teaching proper technique. Technique is often the limiting factor in strength and power development. At this stage of development athletes are learning the mechanics of the strength training exercises. Advanced training methods are not needed or incorporated.

Intermediate Strength Training for Field Athletes

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During the intermediate level of training, periodic changes in volume and intensity and sometimes exercise selection are used to keep athletes from a training plateau.   

Advanced Strength Training for Field Athletes

A “Split Routine” can be used that distributes effort and fatigue over four days of training.

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Note that each example training week does not include plyometric, flexibility, accommodation methods (bands and chains), potentiation methods, conditioning, and sport-specific training. These are only a thumbnail of a week of training with no regard to volume, intensity, or time of year. Advanced programming considers multiple training variables and close athlete monitoring. Adjustments are made when needed.

This brief article should serve as an example of programming for field athletes with a wide range of strength training experience. Incorporating Olympic lifts effectively takes a fair amount of applied experience and often starts with qualified coaching and motivated athletes.

About The Author

Michael Barnes brings over 20 years of experience to the strength and conditioning/ fitness industry. His previous experience includes working in Division I athletics at the most successful collegiate programs, several years in the National Football League with the San Francisco Forty Niners, and the Director of Education with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Michael is an author, speaker, subject matter expert, industry consultant and practitioner.