Olympic Weightlifting Wisdom: Two Veteran Coaches Share Their Best Advice

As we're rolling into a new year, it can be tempting to jump on the latest training bandwagon and buy into the narrative that coaches need to keep their athletes engaged by constantly changing things up.

While there’s nothing wrong with some variety to keep things interesting and overcome plateaus, change for its own sake is directionless and most of the latest gimmicks are nothing more than flashes in the pan that will be out of fashion by this time in 2019, if not before.

You’d be better off going with the tried-and-true methods of coaches who’ve been in the trenches for a long time, have experimented with just about every method out there, and have used thousands of hours of trial and error to hone their craft.

Two such coaches are Wil Fleming and Sean Waxman.


Wil Fleming: Stay Inside The Box

Wil is the co-owner of Force Fitness and Performance and Athletic Revolution Bloomington, in Bloomington, Indiana, one of the most renowned training facilities in the Midwest. 60 of his athletes have earned scholarships and more than 125 are competing in Division I, II, or III college sports.

A decorated athlete in his own right, Wil was an Olympic Trials participant, an all-American athlete, and the school record holder at Indiana University as a hammer thrower. In addition, Wil was a resident athlete at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs for Olympic weightlifting after winning a Junior National Championship.

In his years as both an elite competitor and coach, Wil has seen a lot of training trends come and go.

“A common mistake is to ‘think outside the box’ with all these funky exercise variations and whatever new programming approach is popular at the moment,” he said. “But I’ve found that what’s most effective resides firmly in the box. You’ve got to get the basics down and do the fundamental work right.”

"You’ve got to get the basics down and do the fundamental work right."

When a new athlete comes to train with Wil, he makes sure they quickly lay a solid foundation of work capacity and technique that can be built on progressively over time. This involves a lot of work in the 70 to 79 percent of their one-rep max range and a lot of three-rep and five-rep days focused on the snatch and clean and jerk.

Beginners are often enthusiastic to do as much volume as possible, but Wil is careful to reign this in so the focus remains on intentional, productive work on the platform and in the squat rack instead.

“An athlete needs a good technical model before you can move into advanced programming,” Wil said. “We’re determined to help people improve their movement while they’re building strength and honing their technique. Because a beginner’s body cannot handle the same stresses as someone who is more advanced, we have to be careful to just give them a minimum effective dose that will prompt adaptation, rather than overloading the stimulus.”

With this in mind, a typical week for a beginner to intermediate lifter will look something like:

  • Monday – Snatch
  • Tuesday – Clean and jerk
  • Wednesday – Squat
  • Thursday – Snatch
  • Friday Clean and jerk
  • Saturday – Squat
  • Sunday – Rest day


While this might seem overly simplistic to some, Wil asserts that he’s in the results business, and has no time for complexity for its own sake or what he calls “enter-training” that keeps athletes interested, but fails to deliver the outcomes they want.

“A lot of our athletes have careers and families and others are in school,” Wil said. “The fact that they’re in the real world means they don’t have time to spend half the day in the gym. That’s why we prepare carefully and get them in and out in an hour or less. We believe that when you leave, you should feel better and more capable than when you walked in, and that’s what we strive to deliver.”

You can connect with Wil through his website: www.wilfleming.com

Sean Waxman: Practice Perfectly

Sean Waxman is just as cognizant of the need to provide athletes with simple yet highly effective programming. He’s the founder of Waxman’s Gym in LA, where he has developed more than a dozen elite weightlifters, including six national medalists, a Pan Am Championship team member, and a World Championship team qualifier. Sean also coaches CrossFit Games athletes, and as well as accumulating 25 years of coaching experience, was himself a national-level competitor in Olympic weightlifting.

Like Wil, the first thing Sean strives for in his own lifting, and that of his athletes, is a solid technical base that is continually improved in daily training.

“If the schedule calls for someone to do doubles at 80 percent, then we’ll stick to that if their technique is good and they’re moving swiftly and smoothly,” Sean said. “But if they start making compensations to get the weight up or are too slow and inaccurate, then we’re going to scrap the 80 percent for the day and back off a little to get the kind of quality we need.”

At TrainHeroic, we’ve bought into Anders Ericsson’s Deliberate Practice model, believing that to foster continual improvement and mastery, coaches must create an environment conducive to highly intentional and focused work. This jives with Sean’s approach, which he knows not only impacts what happens in future practices, but also manifests itself on the platform during competition.


“I’m a big believer in practicing perfectly,” Sean said. “That’s not because I’m a nitpicker, but rather that during the flow state of competition you draw subconsciously on patterns that have been grooved thousands of times.

"That’s why I encourage my athletes to guard their technique and focus on sequencing, speed, and tempo during every practice session. This doesn’t only impact the quality of that day’s work, but also reinforces good habits in the long run. Of course there will be occasional technical errors, but if the athlete can start recognizing and self-correcting these, they’ll be better prepared for the next contest.”

Another progression in Sean’s programming approach is his increased understanding of how crucial it is for his athletes to prioritize their recovery. This encompasses an essentialist approach similar to Wil Fleming’s.

“Most of our athletes respond well to high intensity, but they can only handle this if they’re getting good quality sleep, eating right, and resting enough,” Sean said. “Another way we maintain intensity is to have a daily focus, like a snatch day or a clean and jerk day. We’ll have our more advanced athletes do accessory work on these days because they can handle more volume, but for less experienced ones, we often just have them do a single exercise so they don’t get overloaded.”

Stay Tried-And-True In 2018

So as you finish tweaking your programming for the rest of 2018, consider following the lead of these two top coaches, who prioritize simplicity, quality, technique, load balancing, and recovery to help athletes of all levels reach their potential. 

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About The Author

Phil is an Emmy-nominated writer who frequently contributes to The Inertia, SUP the Mag and Canoe & Kayak. He is the co-author, with Dr. Kelly Starrett, of the forthcoming books Flight Plan and Waterman 2.0, and is also collaborating on Game Changer with University of Michigan football performance director Dr. Fergus Connolly and Bridging the Gap with Sue Falsone, the first female athletic head trainer in Major League sports. His other books include Whistle Stop, which Larry King said, “I can’t put down,” and Our Supreme Task, which The Times Literary Supplement called “Illuminating.”