Alright, so you’ve decided to learn weightlifting, but you need a solid, reliable beginner olympic weightlifting program to help you develop your technique, build confidence with the lifts and get you moving in the right direction.
That’s exactly what I’ve written for you here. We’re going to cover…
- Essential olympic weightlifting exercises for beginners
- The most appropriate sets and reps for beginner weightlifting skill development
- What good weightlifting programs look like
- A sample 3 day per beginner weightlifting program
- Plus how to progress
- And frequently asked questions
Basically all the info I wish that I’d known back when I started.
Let’s jump right into it.
Olympic weightlifting exercises For beginners
As a beginner you really don’t need a huge range of complicated exercises. You just need more practice at the main movements, with a few basic strength exercises. Here’s your list…
- Clean & Jerk
- Hang Snatch
- Hang Clean
- Front Squat
- Back Squat
- Push Press
And that’s pretty much it. Maybe a few accessory exercises like pull-ups sprinkled in.
There’s a time and a place for loads of variation, but as a beginner weightlifter, you’ll do far better by sticking to the basics and getting lots of practice in.
Beginner weightlifting sets and reps
As a beginner your main goal is skill acquisition, which means that you need plenty of practice and plenty of reps.
The only problem with that is that weightlifting movements are pretty tiring, and even with light weights your form will break down quickly under fatigue.
To solve that, the best approach is to use lots of sets of low to moderate reps, with shorter rests, for example…
- 6 sets of 4 reps – with 90s rest between sets
- 8 sets of 3 reps – with 90 seconds rest between sets
- 10 sets of 1 – with 1 rep performed every minute on the minute
Beginner weightlifting loads (What weights should you use?)
No one likes to hear it, but the best way to improve your weightlifting as a beginner is by doing LOADS of work with light to moderate weights. The kind of weights that aren’t scary, and that you can easily focus on technique with.
Depending on your strength level that might mean doing a session like…
Snatch: 8×3 with an empty barbell
Clean & Jerk: 10×1 with 35-40kg
And that’s totally fine.
Remember, this is technical practice. The best weightlifters in the world put in tens of thousands of really high quality reps, so if you want to be truly good at the sport, you need to be doing the same right from the start.
As I love to say to my lifters, “I don’t expect perfection on every rep, but I do expect you to intend for perfection on every rep.”
What does an olympic weightlifting program look like?
Okay, so we’ve got a solid idea of the exercises, sets, reps and weights we’re going to be using, but what does it look like when you put it all together into an actual beginner olympic weightlifting programme?
Well, it follows 3 rules…
- Frequent practice of the weightlifting movements, ideally 3+ times per week
- Enough strength and accessory work to support your development
- Structure rules 1 and 2 in a way that allows for recovery
And that’s it. There’s no need for complex periodisation plans or 12 week loading periods. You just need a program that gives you plenty of practice at the essentials.
Sample 3-day beginner weightlifting program
*All workouts to be performed on non-consecutive days (for proper recovery) with a good dynamic warm-up beforehand.
Snatch: 8×3 @ light weight
Hang Clean + Jerk: 6×2 @ light to moderate weight
Back Squat: 3×5 @ RPE 8
Pull-Ups: 3 x Max
Hang Snatch: 6×2 @ light to moderate weight
Clean & Jerk: 5×3 @ light weight
Push Press: 3×5 @ RPE 8
Glute Ham Raise: 2 x 8-10
Snatch: 10×1 @ light to moderate weight
Clean & Jerk: 10×1 @ light to moderate weight
Front Squat: 3×5 @ RPE 8
Pull-Ups: 3 x Max
Progressing your weightlifting program
Progression each week can come in one of two ways…
- Technical progress
- Heavier weights with similar technique
As a beginner, your biggest goal is to improve your technique, because this will set you up for lifting heavier weights in the future (I promise!)
With that said, I’ve been coaching for long enough to know that most people want to try putting more weight on the bar over time. My general rule is that you can absolutely add weight, so long as it doesn’t make your technique worse.
If you find yourself missing more lifts, or making weird errors, or overthinking lifts, then it’s time to drop the weight back and get more practice in.
Strength work can simply progress in a linear fashion, adding a small amount of weight to the barbell each week.
Programme Length and Deload
I would recommend running the programme for 4 weeks, and then taking an easier ‘deload’ week in which you cut your number of sets in half, and slightly reduce the weight of strength exercises.
What to do after this programme
In my eyes you’ve got a couple of options, with option 1 being my preference for most lifters.
- Run the programme again
All you’ll do is make minor changes or adjustments to keep things fresh. For example…
- You might do 4×3 squats instead of 3×5.
- You might do 6×4 snatches instead of 8×3.
- And you might do Lat pulldowns instead of pull-ups
So it stays mostly the same, with just a few small changes.
- Move onto a different programme
I feel like this is the best option for you once you’ve run the beginner programme 2-3 times through. At that point you’ll have a good feel for your strengths and weaknesses as a lifter, and you’ll likely be ready to introduce slightly more variation in order to further refine your skill and push your strength up.
For an example of an intermediate weightlifting program click this link, or check out my no-nonsense weightlifting programme.
Frequently Asked Beginner Weightlifting Questions
How long should your exercise be for a beginner weightlifter?
I like to keep sessions to no more than 90 minutes, including 10 minutes for warm up, plus 5 minutes for a little bit of post session stretching.
How to know if your volume is too much?
With weightlifting you don’t tend to get the same kind of muscle soreness and DOMS like you do on bodybuilding programs (other than maybe your first week if you haven’t trained properly for a while)
Instead, what you’ll start to experience is a more general feeling of fatigue. You’ll find yourself more tired during the day, and you might find your technique and coordination isn’t as good in your training sessions.
If in doubt, take a couple of days doing only 50% as many sets, and see if you feel better. If you do, then chances are your training volume was a bit too high.
What’s a good beginner snatch weight?
Honestly, there’s no such thing as a good beginner snatch or clean and jerk weight. I don’t say this to be mean, but literally no-one cares how much weight you lift as a beginner weightlifter. Whether you lift 30kg or 70kg makes zero difference.
Instead, think about what makes a good beginner technique, because that’s FAR more important. I’m talking about keeping the bar close, moving it fast, catching low, maintaining stability and doing all of that with impeccable timing.
There’s plenty of time to start looking at lifting levels and standards down the road.
Wrapping Up – Next Steps
Alright, that’s enough time spent reading, time to put some of this into action…
- Get into the gym and run through the sample weightlifting programme at least once (4 weeks plus 1 week deload)
- In each session, pay real attention to your technique, and make improving your movements your number one priority.
- If you’ve got any questions, just ask them below, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
‘Til Next Time
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Alex is the Owner and Head Coach of Character Strength & Conditioning, and specialises in strength & power development for athletes.
He currently works as a Tutor & Educator for British Weightlifting, and has previously delivered S&C support to gymnastics and swimming talent pathways.