Technical Proficiency Developed Through Proper Programming

Proper technique and methods of teaching it used to be the strength sport equivalent of the search for the Holy Grail. When I first got into the sport our resources were coaches who were taught by amateur American lifters of an antiquated generation, still pictures from International competitions, and copious amounts of hours watching Iron mind videos. Please note nowhere in here is them mention of the worn “internet.”

As the age of information and Crossfit hit the strength world, suddenly there was an influx of readily available, in depth knowledge on lifting technique. While there was the obligatory online vitriol that sparked numerous debates (and quite frankly, feuds), coaches as a whole were able to learn in minutes from the comfort of our own homes what would have taken hours upon hours of conversations with a knowledgeable expert (had we been lucky enough to find one). Now, for the most part basic lifting has gotten pretty good in the US.

That said, there is still a lot of ugly lifting out there. Lifters may have the proper timing. Or positions. Or strength balances. Or rhythm. But often time do not show that they have all of these attributes in a total package. And that total package is what separates technically proficient lifters from strong athletes who lift weights.

I have realized over the past few years that this is not a matter of coaching the movements. Or athletic ineptitude. Nope...what I have learned is that great technique comes from proper programming. And here I want to list a few of the ways in which programming can enhance or detract from developing technically proficient lifters.

Selection of Intensity.

Lets face it. We ALL want to lift heavy shit or watch our athletes lift heavy shit. And heavy lifting is a skill….so hey, why not do it. All. The Time.

While this approach is certainly vital at the elite level of the sport, for people who are not at that level, it can be a disaster. With increased load/intensity comes increased stress. With increased stress comes an increased response from the sympathetic nervous system (think :fight or flight). When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, it has a detrimental effect on developing motor skills and cognitive function. Essentially we either make the lift or miss it: but do not really learn to develop the sharp motor patterns to master the movement.


Often times lower level lifters who train in too high on an intensity range tend to be slow, hit lifts well below what they should based on squat numbers and have a low success rate with maximal attempt (but is often buoyed by the one or 2 big lifts hit that lend an appearance that good programming is going on).

Strength Imbalances:

If someone does the same thing wrong with each rep in a given movement, it is a technical flaw. If someone executes well until higher percentages: then does the same error all of the time: it is a strength imbalance. Understanding this is key.

  • Front Squat: 85% of back squat

  • Clean Deadlift: 100% of back squat

  • Snatch Deadlift: 90% of back squat

  • Powerlifting Deadlift: 120% of back squat

When someone has strength imbalances, all of the cuing in the world will not overcome the imbalance and lead to proper execution.. There is simply a structural limitation within that individual that has to be addressed. Learning the corollary relationships between certain movements, being able to assess the results and knowing how to strengthen the weaknesses will go a long way to developing a lifter.

A well balanced lifter not only moves efficiently, but also tends to stay healthier. And a healthier lifter can perform a higher amount volume over a given time period with properly programmed lifts….which in turn goes a long way into mastering technique.

Proper Implementation of Assistance Exercises

Assistance exercises can play a huge role in assessing strength imbalances. As well as helping an individual to master certain segments of the lifts. However, once a person’s program leaves the GPP stage where the focus is on overall physical development not specific to the lifts, there are two common mistakes people make when programming them.

Replicating the movement pattern.

It should be common sense that anything designed to help the snatch should look and be executed EXACTLY as it is for the snatch (or clean, or jerk). But often time form and positions that coaches expect perfection on with the lifts are ignored. The same detail must be put into moving a clean pull and if it were for a clean. Not only does this ensure that the proper muscles are developed, from a strength perspective (to not only execute the lift but to maintain the proper muscular balance required) but it also gives added chances for the body to ingrain and refine the movement pattern in the nervous system.

If a lifter performs X amount of reps in the proper pattern (via either the lifts or proper execution of the assistance movements) but then does 2X in an assistance movement that deviates from the lift, the lifter has then spent more time in a given session moving with an improper pattern: and over time this will yield a degradation in the quality of execution of the classic lift.

The other issue is weight selection.

Given the nature of most assistance exercises (partial segments of the complex lifts), it is desirable to overload the movements. This is how we help to correct muscle imbalances, as well as gain the confidence needed to move heavy weight. Similarly to the previous example, however, if the load is programmed to a level where speed and positions are compromised, carry over to the lifts will be minimal at best, and more often than not, detrimental.

If we perform pulls at a load that causes a severe decrease in speed in the transition from first pull into second pull, for all that was gained in overloading the finish of the pull, much was lost in the timing of the lift being improperly ingrained. Heavy loads are necessary to increase strength, but if the load used dictates that the performance is done with positions or timing that do not replicate what should be done on the lifts, the carry over to the lift will be minimal. Not only do we risk developing a muscular imbalance, but we miss an opportunity to develop the proper timing and intramuscular coordination.

As great as it is to know all of the proper positions in the different portions of the lifts, how to teach the timing and speed, there is more to it. Knowing how to program in a manner that enhances the skills that we teach our athletes will serve them best. Minimizing technical degradation at increased loads will maximize the results they achieve. And that is the end mission for all of us as coaches.

Written by:Steven M Titus, head Coach Team WNY Weightlifting

Edited by Michael Reinhardt, DPT.

Steven Titus