Choosing the Right Weightlifting Program… And Making it Work
Greg Everett

In the eight years I’ve been posting training programs and daily workouts on this site, we’ve had a lot of athletes get amazing results… and we’ve had a lot of people asking questions that stun me with their implications. For example, asking to clarify which numbers are the sets and which are the reps… three weeks into the program. Or asking to confirm they’re doing a particular exercise correctly when what they’re doing is barely even related, let alone correct, and can be learned with the demo video and extensive written description provided in our exercise library. And of course, my favorite, how they can combine one of my programs with two other programs plus twenty other exercises.
Interestingly enough, all of these things are explained in pretty good detail in the Help link provided on every single workout (twice), but this page seems to be ignored or overlooked somehow by a surprising number of readers. This article will overlap with a lot of the information on that page, but I’m going to approach it a bit differently and see if I can get through to more people on the critical points that are being missed so that more of you can be successful with these programs.
Choosing the Right Program
The first step of course is selecting a program that is appropriate for you. This involves a few factors:
1.     Duration
2.     Your ability to tolerate volume/intensity
3.     Your technical proficiency/consistency in the Olympic lifts
4.     Your specific needs with regard to technique and strength
5.     Your goals
6.     Whether or not you have accurate 1RMs
You will have to figure all of these things out and come up with an idea of your priorities. For example, are you decent in terms of technical proficiency in the classic lifts, but need to work on getting stronger? Do you need to focus on squat strength more than pulling strength? Do you need to work on your overhead strength for the snatch and/or jerk? Are you really strong but terrible at the snatch and clean & jerk? Do you need to get ready for a competition in a certain number of weeks? Do you die if you try to do more than 250 reps per week? Are you brand new to weightlifting? Do you have established and accurate 1RMs for snatch, clean, jerk and squats?
With answers to these types of questions in hand, you’ll need to take a look at the programs on the site. Most of the programs have thorough descriptions and some helpful bullet points letting you know what to expect in terms of the program’s level of volume and intensity and what the cycle focuses on and is particularly good for.
Keep in mind that, except for a few cycles that are specifically, obviously and explicitly intended for squat strength improvement and work toward max squat testing, all of the programs work toward improvement of the snatch and clean & jerk and will build toward maxes in the last day of the last week. This means that any program except those aforementioned squat cycles will work to prepare for competition—which one is best for you will depend on all the factors mentioned previously.
In addition to the info in the descriptions of the cycles, take a look at the workouts themselves. This is important—see what exercises are being used and how those align with what you need to work on. If you’re not familiar with an exercise, look it up in the exercise library—you’ll not only see how to do it, but what it’s used for.
You are a special group. You don’t have a high level of proficiency with the Olympic lifts, are not familiar with a wide range of supplemental exercises, don’t have established or accurate 1RMs, and can’t tolerate a great deal of volume or frequent high intensity. This being the case, DON’T TRY TO TRAIN LIKE A MORE ADVANCED LIFTER. Using a program appropriate for a more advanced lifter will NOT magically make you that advanced—in fact, it will more than likely be less effective than a more beginner-appropriate program. Check your ego and make the right choice.
Luckily for you, I created a starter program to introduce you to this kind of training and get you prepared for our training cycles. By the end of this program, you should be able to handle training weightlifting 5 days/week and have pretty accurate 1RMs for the primary lifts, which means more of the programs on the site will be accessible and effective for you.
How To Do It Right
The following are some points to keep in mind when getting ready to start a program and while doing the program to ensure you get the most out of it and maximize its effectiveness. This is important stuff—spend a few minutes here before you invest three months of your life into doing something half-assed.
Read the Help Page
I feel like this shouldn’t need to be stated explicitly, but experience tells me it does, and probably more than once. Read the help page. Read the help page. I didn’t write it because I was bored and had nothing better to do. I wrote it because I love you and I want you to do these workouts correctly. This page is nice and organized and easy to navigate. Read the whole thing, and then refer back to it as you go through the program when question arise. If there is something you need to know that isn’t explained there, check again closely, and if it truly isn’t there, post your question in the comments of the workout or program so we can help you.
Ask Questions
We have a comments function specifically to ensure that you can ask questions and we can answer them and make sure you’re doing everything correctly. We read and respond to every single question posted, even if it’s been answered on the help page or, in some cases, right in the workout or the last comment. There are no stupid questions, only stupid people who don’t ask questions when they should.
Also, make sure you ask your questions in time to apply the answers. Conveniently enough, you can do this even if you’re following the current daily workouts by viewing the next day’s workout (Tomorrow’s Workout link in the right column) and asking any questions you have, so that when tomorrow comes, you have the answer and are ready to go. Don’t wait until the moment you start the workout to post a question—we’re pretty quick to respond, but we’re not magicians.
Intensity (Weight) Prescriptions
Some of the programs will prescribe specific weights based on percentages of 1RM; other programs have you select weights according to feel (such as working up to a max for that day, and then often doing back-off sets after it); some programs use both.
Selecting weights by feel is ideal for newer lifters—percentage-based intensity prescriptions don’t work well if you don’t have an accurate or legitimate 1RM to take the percentage of. The newer you are as a lifter, the less physically capable you are of performing a true maximal effort (it’s nothing personal, you just haven’t developed the neurological efficiency to do so yet). This means that any given percentage of your “max” is too light.
If you’re a beginning to intermediate lifter and are using a percentage-based program, remember that those prescriptions are adjustable. This is especially important for pulls and pulling variations. If your best snatch and clean is limited by technique or mobility, that means it’s well below your strength capacity, and consequently, pulls based on a percentage of your best snatch or clean will be too light. In such cases, you will need to increase the weights according to feel. Establish this increase in the first week or two of the cycle and then change the training weights week to week in the same increments as prescribed, just from this higher baseline. (For example, if you had 90% snatch pulls and had to add 20 kg to them to make them 100 kg, you can do this two ways. One, just keep calculating the percentage off your true max and add 20kg to this number; or two, calculate a theoretical max snatch based on your increased pull weight (111kg in this case) and then use that max to calculate future percentages for pulls.)
In any case, do your best to maintain the spirit of the program. If 80% is prescribed and it feels light, don’t go bananas and increase it to a max effort—that’s very clearly not what’s intended.
If you intend to do a percentage-based program, test 1RMs before you start to make sure you’re going into it with accurate numbers. If you haven’t tested your maxes in six months, don’t be surprised if the program isn’t as effective as you wanted it to be. However, don’t test your maxes and then immediately start the program—give yourself an easy week after testing before you begin so you’re not beginning Day 1 already beat to hell.
For all of these programs, 1RMs are actual, current 1RMs, not goal or expected maxes for the end of the cycle. These RMs will remain the same for the duration of the program unless during the course of that program you test them and make new PRs, after which you would use that newest PR to calculate your percentages.
Know the Exercises
The amount of content available for free on this site is ridiculous, but not as ridiculous as how many people have no idea it exists. Find it and take advantage of it! The exercise library is one of the best resources on here. I strongly suggest, before starting a new cycle, that you take a look at every single exercise you’re going to do and look it up in the exercise library so you can be sure you know how to do it properly. Don’t wait to be halfway through a program to figure out you’ve been doing the wrong thing. Take advantage of our forum and post videos so you can get feedback on your technique. And ask questions! Every single workout has a comments function, and we read and respond to every single question. Don’t fail because you didn’t bother to ask a simple question at the start.
A question we get surprisingly often is, Do I warm up to these weights, or just do what’s written? I hate to sound like a dick, but come on… Of course you warm-up progressively to a set at 80% or a RM!
Do a general warm-up for all workouts, such as something like this. Do whatever you find works best, but do it. Then each exercise should have a specific warm-up as needed (e.g. for snatches, maybe you throw the bar around with some snatch presses, overhead squats, tall snatches, etc.; for snatch pulls after doing snatches, probably no specific warm-up at all—you warmed up with those snatches).
Perform increasingly heavy warm-up sets of the exercise you’re doing until reaching the first prescribed working set. Let’s say your first prescribed set of squats is a triple at 150kg. You might squat the bar a few times, then do one triple each at 70, 90, 110, 130 before taking the first set at 150.
Do Your Ab & Back Work!
Some of the programs prescribe ab and back work; most do not. Here’s a helpful excerpt from the Help page you forgot to read before starting your program:
Ab work should be performed every training day, even if not prescribed in the workout. Include back work as well at least 3 days/week (e.g. back extensions, reverse hypers, back planks) if not prescribed in the workouts. Check out this article for info on ab and back work.
See why it’s important to read the help page? You may have just gone three months without doing a single rep of trunk strength work when you were supposed to be doing quite a bit of it. Technically, you didn’t do the program.
Changing the Program
Inevitably, some of you are going to look at a program and think, I know how to make this better. You might. More likely, you’re going to fuck it up. I say this not because I think you’re stupid, but because I’ve seen it done over and over and over again. So let me give you a few pointers regarding making changes to the programs:
Combining Programs
Don’t do it. It’s that simple. A program is a systematic and purposeful series of workouts. Combine two of them, and you’ve destroyed both systems—you’re going to get the worst of each, not the best. If you’re good enough to combine two programs effectively, you should probably be writing your own programs, not using canned ones off the internet.
Decide what it is you need to work on and what exactly your goals and priorities are, and select the appropriate program to address these things. If you want to get better and benching and deadlifting, this is probably a bad choice.
Adding to the Program
Having said the above, it is possible to make some additions to a program that won’t have negative effects.
Primarily this includes technique work, as it won’t have a taxing effect on you because of the minimal intensity. Feel free to add technique work anywhere in a workout, although I would recommend using technique primers as an effective and economical approach. For each classic lift each day, choose a technique exercise that addresses the biggest problem you have with that lift, and perform 3-6 sets of it with light weight immediately prior to the classic lift it addresses (e.g. muscle snatches to work on a more accurate turnover before the snatches in the workout).
The other acceptable addition is beach work. By this I mean light bodybuilding exercises (mostly dumbbell, kettlebell and bodyweight exercises—if you have to use a barbell, it’s probably overkill). If you have some specific weak points you want to shore up, do that here. Or if you just want to have bigger biceps, that’s fine too. Just keep in mind your priorities and don’t let beach work interfere with your primary training. I would suggest no more than 2-3 exercises per day, 2-3 days per week. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in most of the programs will be the best place to do this training. Don’t add an hour of training—maybe twenty minutes or so.
Modifying the Schedule
All of the programs posted are five days/week. Some of you can’t swing this, and I understand that, but you’ll have to work it out. Check out this article for ideas on how to do it.
Another way of doing it is keeping all of the workouts intact and simple spreading them out over a longer period of time. For example, doing a 5-day per week program only 4 days per week so that week 2 begins with workout number 5, etc.
Ultimately, if you make significant changes to the program, it’s no longer the program. Don’t be surprised if it doesn’t produce results, and don’t say the program didn’t work when you didn’t even do it.
The Bottom Line
The fact is that none of the programs on this site will work perfectly for everyone who does them, no matter how closely they’re followed. Keep in mind these programs are written for no one in particular, but rather for a general audience, and you may or may not align well with that audience for a particular cycle. This is why it’s so important to select cycles appropriately—this will maximize their effectiveness.
If you get zero improvements from a cycle, however, there are two possibilities: You chose the program horribly wrong, or you did the program horribly wrong. Take advantage of all of the information in this article and on the website and don’t waste your time doing things that won’t produce results.

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Greg Everett is the owner of Catalyst Athletics, head coach of the USA Weightlifting National Champion team Catalyst Athletics, author of the books Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches and Olympic Weightlifting for Sports, director/writer/producer/editor/everything of the documentary American Weightlifting, publisher of The Performance Menu journal, fifth-place finisher at the USAW National Championships, masters national champion, masters American Open champion, masters American record holder in the clean & jerk, and Olympic Trials coach. Follow him on Facebook here and and sign up for his free newsletter here.

Read more by Greg Everett


Daniel Hewitt 2015-04-17
Nice article.
I have previously followed Travis Mash's programming so quite some time, thought I would give yours a try and this article is a big help. I have been lifting for 2 years now and FINALLY have sprung for a legit home gym setup.
looking forward to this.
Greg Everett 2015-04-17
Daniel -
Welcome, and make sure you post questions as they arise!
Kristy 2015-04-21
Hello! I'm on my 2nd week of the 12 week strength cycle. I usually combine some of the work from other days. Mondays and Thursdays are usually my long session and I will combine 2 days and pick and choose lifts assigned for the week. Does this hinder progress since I'm not completely following the day to day work?
Greg Everett 2015-04-21
Kristy -
You can make it work if you do it well. If you can't do the program as written, do the best you can and it will have to work.
Kristie 2015-04-22
Solid gold! I've been wanting to sprinkle in a little extra work 2-3x a week. Glad to have the green light for beach work!

I'm almost finished with the front squat emphasis cycle. Before that I did 9 weeks of heaven. Before that Jessica's complex cycle. Do you recommend any time off in between cycles?
Kristy 2015-04-22
Can you please clarify what you mean by combining programs? Right now I WOD 6x a week and do the Catalyst programming 3-4x a week. In addition to that we are doing a deadlift strength cycle (1x week) which I feel is perfect since it can easily be added to the 12 week strength program. My box has 2 days of OLY classes in which I usually combine with the Catalyst program, is this not okay? My OLY coach often assigns snatch/clean complexes and I simply follow the percentages on the Catalyst programming or sometimes I add OH Squats when it's assigned. I've always had the huge concern of overworking myself, but now that I'm lifting more I've been listening to my body a whole lot more.
Greg Everett 2015-04-23
Kristie -

You can take an easy week between cycles - I recommend taking the first week of the next cycle and reducing the weights by 20% or so and knocking off a few reps and sets. That way it's a good rest week but will also help transition you into the next cycle.
Greg Everett 2015-04-23
Kristy -

How well that works for you will depend on how far off you are from your limits. That is, if you're still well below your potential, you can probably handle it for now and still make progress. The longer you train, the less you'll be able to do that. But yes, what you're doing definitely qualifies as combining programs, and I don't recommend it.
Owen 2015-04-24
Fantastic article! I appreciate the effort you make (and the questions you answer) when you are offering this all gratis on your site.
Kristy 2015-04-27

Ok thanks for the feedback. IAre we allowed to take a week break during the cycles? Or perhaps doing a week's programming in the span of 2 weeks. I'm not sure if the 12 week strength cycle includes a deload week?
Steve Pan 2015-04-27
Kristy -

There are recovery weeks programmed in. I would recommend against taking weeks completely off.
n maraviglia 2015-04-28
What about running or boxing simultaneously? Say around 5 - 10km a week or about two hours of hitting the heavy bag / shadow boxing?
Greg Everett 2015-04-28
N Maraviglia -
You'll be fine, but you likely won't see the same results as you would without it. Again, the more progress you want to see, the more you need to focus your training.
Lukasz 2015-05-14
This might sound stupid but how can i figure out on my own whether i moved from begginer to an intermediate. I train OLY for an year now twice a week.
Steve Pan 2015-05-16
Lukasz -

There is an article here that has some standards you can aim toward.
Adam McGhee 2015-05-20
Good morning,

You wrote under the "Read The Help Page", you said you wrote the help page because you love us. I know that was, perhaps, a simple part to that sentence. But to me that speaks volumes. You care. Along with the reputation you have already earned as an expert coach, you saying you love your athletes and me, someone you have never met, tells me I should let you be my coach too. Thank you. Kind regards.
Greg Everett 2015-05-20
Adam -
Yes, I love all you little rascals, even when you don't read everything you're supposed to.
Kevin C 2015-06-05
I just finished 2 years of Division 1 college track. I weigh 170 and last year my maxes included: squat - 355. clean - 245. bench - 215 (and could still break a 5 min mile) I barely have snatched, OHS, or jerked. I would like to get serious towards crossfit and gain strength overall as well as gaining some muscle weight. What program would you suggest I use?
Greg Everett 2015-06-09
Kevin C -

I would suggest you spend some time learning the snatch and jerk, practicing, and then use the starter program on this site or the beginner program in my book. Otherwise you're going to be limited to more powerlifting type programs.
Joe 2015-08-14
I just stumbled across this website. I look forward to where your training programs will take me. I'm in a bit of a slump and need a new direction. My nutrition is quickly falling off track (it is amazing how "good" BAD food tastes) and my workouts (mostly CrossFit) are not motivating me like they once did. I could use some advancing in my olympic lifts anyhow. Thanks for providing all this infomation!!
Brennan 2015-09-01
Would it be okay to run Wendler's 5-3-1 during one of your relatively lower volume programs as long as I perform the 5-3-1lifts each week with when they would best fit into your programming?
No. This is not recommended. Please read the Help & Info section here.

Steve Pan
matt 2015-09-25
Hi, random question, I have crazy long femurs and a short torso (imagine a 5'11" frog) and the bottom position of the snatch is impossible for me, I've been able to get more mobile but it's not enough it seems, I can front and back squat pretty low, but the catch still kicks my ass. Have you guys seen this before? And we're you able to make it work safely? If so what do you recommend to solve this issue?
Keep working on your mobility and stretching. Only go as low as you can while maintaining extension in the back, make sure you are safe! Those proportions will make it hard but you just have to put in some extra work to keep pusing forward and improving.

Steve Pan
Brice Adams 2015-10-27
I appreciate the clear comments regarding the modification of programs. So I have a question about modifying a program. I am starting a girls high school weightlifting team in Florida and I am a new coach. The two lifts are the clean & jerk and bench press. Since the snatch is not one of the lifts, could you suggest a modification to the routine or a different program? Or should I just keep moving, nothing here to see? Thanks!
I would just pull the snatch work out, except maybe some of the overhead strength work since that will benefit any pressing exercise and help with shoulder mobility to balance the benching (and hopefully keep them ready to transition from HS WL to Olympic WL in the future), and then use that training time/space to insert your bench training.

Greg Everett
Anna Tultz 2015-11-06
BAM! Work smarter, not harder. Love the realness you bring!
Lauren Nayman 2016-01-05
Happy new year! I've done your starter program, and that helped me get my technique going on the lifts. I've been working out for a few years, but I'm only just starting to try the Olympic lifts. My c+j feels pretty good, and went from an empty bar to 80# by the end of that program, but my snatch is stuck at an empty bar. What would you suggest doing (such as a particular supplementary exercise or weight prescription) to improve my snatch using the basic rep program? My biggest issues are hips rising too quickly and pressing the bar rather than locking out (I have a video that I can send if that would help clarify)
Snatch segment deadlifts or halting snatch deadlifts, and drop snatch or snatch balance and tall snatch.

Greg Everett
Andrew Slezak 2016-03-23
Hey Greg,

I am competing in the 94kg class but feel a little on the light side. I'm currently floating just under 200lbs but don't have room to lose weight for the 85kg class... okay maybe I could but I love ice cream way too much. Right now I'm classified as a "level 3" lifter according to some diagrams I saw on here. My goal is to hit level 5 as a 94kg in the next 3 years. My thought is if I put on 10 more lbs of lean muscle I'll be able to drop a few pounds easily to make weight for 94kg and think the extra muscle mass will add some serious strength.

Despite having previous lifting experience with sports training and some crossfit sprinkled in the past 7 years, I finally ran a true 12 week program to prepare for a baseline competition. My strength gains have been phenomenal and my technique is getting dialed in. However, I haven't put on any muscle size, as expected. I guess after looking at traditional powerlifting, I'm having a hard time grasping the idea that I can see hypertrophy without the volume of 5-8 reps. In order for me to compete where I want, I feel like I need more size where strength should follow.

What are your thoughts and experiences with my situation, I feel like I can't be the only one thinking this. Furthermore, I've looked through your programs and have a few in mind I'd like to try, So many choices!! Which program do you have that will meet my needs?
You do need some volume for hypertrophy. Strength by Feel will give you a lot of volume, and you can add beach work to any of the programs as long as you don't go overboard. Mainly you need to quit worrying too much about "lean" mass and eat enough to gain weight.

Greg Everett
Sean Peyres 2016-04-01
Quick Question: when the exercise is prescribed a percentage, is the percentage of that exercise or of snatch, clean, jerk, etc?
For example: Snatch Pulls at 90%. Would it be 90% of your Snatch Pull 1RM or 90% of your Snatch 1RM? Thank you
Percentages will be off of the associated lift. Pulls will come off the associated lift as well. Snatch pulls will be based off of your best snatch.

Steve Pan
Sean Peyres 2016-04-01
What about exercises that aren't pulls or deadlifts? It says on the Help & Info Page that only pulls and deads are based on their associated lifts..
Any other exercise will be based off the given exercise unless otherwise specified in paranthesis.

Steve Pan
Fred_A 2016-04-19

I honestly do not know what else you and your staff can do for the community. I has been of great help. I thank you for your selfish efforts.

Sven Reichelt 2016-05-15

I'm not sure but eventually there is someone who can help.
Last week at this time i did my workout existing of heavy single cleans. after aiming for a new one rep max at 198lbs the problem started. i cleaned the weight went into the front squat position and stood up while dropping the weight i felt an enormous amount of pain in my back.
i have no problem to go into back extension but when i bend over or roll my head forwards i stil feel pain in my lower back. i can still lift weight and clean the amount of weight i want but it'S always i little anything in the back when i bend myself. i tried various movements to figure out what it is if its muscular, skeletal or whatever..
i will go to the doctor next week but maybe there is anyone who experienced something similar.

thanks for any kind of response
Definitely see a medical professional and don't do anything that aggravates it in the meantime.

Greg Everett
Mark Sefferino 2016-06-17
I am looking for a new oly program. Looking for a program that is 4x week. I am pretty strong, BS 150kg, FS 130kg, press 77kg. I have been doing an oly program through my gym for 6 months. My snatch is stuck @ 74kg, has been for a while, same with the c&j @ 105kg. My technique is average on a good day. I have been told i move too fast off the ground on the first pull. Do you have any program suggestions?
If your problem is moving too fast off the ground, you don't need a specific program, you just need to focus on that element of the lift in any program you do. You can add some technique work with slow-pull snatches and segment snatches to help.

Greg Everett
Frida Lindström 2016-08-15
Hi Greg! I just subscribed to this page after following you for a long time. I have just started the olympic lifting after many years in the gym and some powerlifting. Have been training kind of heavy powerlifting the last couple of month and implement the olympic lifts with some good results with clean at 57.5kg Jerk 55 kg and Snatch 40 kg My weight 50 kg I would like to gain some kg to like 60kg. I nam a former crosscountry skiier, having a hard time gaining that extra weight.Luxury problem for some not to me Who wants to be strong. My goal is to become a better olymoic lifter, stronger and bigger. Was looking into this program and some others, unsure wich one to choose?? Do you have any recomendations?? Best regards Frida from sweden
I would try this one to begin

Greg Everett
Kelli Williams 2016-12-15
Thanks for this article! I am loving everything catalyst. I did the 4 week beginner program and have done two meets! I still have a lot of work to go on my form, but my gym doesn't have an oly coach. What would you suggest I do next to keep working on form but still build strength. Thanks!
Barbara 2016-12-17
Im not sure what program to chose. Can someone help? I SUCK at cleans and Snatch. im 5 feet and about 120 /123 lb. my 1RM of DL is 340, FS around 200 and OHS 150. Now I CANT squat clean pass 125lb , I think I got 130 once and maybe I can snatch 95. I do all the movements often but i tend to muscle everything. HELP! what program do I need to get a better clean. Thanks
Any program will help you get better at cleans if you focus on getting better at cleans. I would start with this program to establish a baseline.

Greg Everett
Brian Archield 2017-04-16
I like to be pretty detailed with the planning of my training. Im self coached but I have two competitions coming up. 1 on June 16 AND another in Sept 16. I been doing two a days 4 times a week on my own but I don't know how to approach my first competition because it exactly 8 weeks from today. Do you guys have an program recommendations for me?? I really need to work my overhead strength and just stronger to be honest. Thank you
This one or this one.

Greg Everett
Allison King 2017-05-08
Hello! I sent a general email but I'll post my question here since that was advises...I am an expericned Olympic weightlifter with good technical proficiency as I have great coach who works with me but does not make programs. I feel like I have maximized everything I can get out of my body but in order to make the next leap I need to get stronger! I need a program to help me stay organized and build my leg strength. I also crossfit and have been a competitive crossfitter. Was thinking about one of the 12-week programs but because you need to buy I couldn't see what the movements and what sets reps were. Just wondering if you have a suggestion on something for me. 38yo female, 69 k, 73/91. Goal of Americans 2017, nationals 2018 (long shot but everyone needs a crazy goal);)

Thanks Allison K
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