Program Design & Recovery

by Travis Cooper

I have been competing in weightlifting for the past nine years. Over that time, my knowledge on weightlifting has expanded and evolved. I often get questions from people asking for my views on training and recovery. Here are the basic views and logic that I use when thinking about these two major components of training.


If someone told you today that if you did not add 15kg to your snatch in four weeks they would kill your family, what would you do? I have asked a variation of this question to both novice and veteran lifters and 99 percent of the time, a conversation similar to the following ensues:

Them: “I would snatch”

Me: “How heavy would you snatch?”
Them: “Heavy”
Me: “How many times a week would you snatch heavy?”
Them: “Probably every day”
Me: “How many times a day would you snatch heavy?”
Them: “Multiple times per day”

After thinking of things this way, I cannot shake the notion that training the lifts heavy and often is the best way to make improvement. I believe that weightlifting is intuitive in nature, and the main thing that needs to be replicated to improve is not some secret training program, but the urgency to improve. In a situation where your family’s wellbeing is at risk, it becomes necessary to get better. Instead of it being an option, you now have to get better. We have to somehow find a certain urgency to get better in the same way that we would have urgency to get to air if we were drowning. For this reason, my programming sticks close to the lifts taking the approach of going as heavy as I can, as often as I can, without getting hurt.

Glenn Pendlay, my current coach at MuscleDriver USA, has similar ideas. Over time Glenn has found that in the United States, for the drug free athlete, three max out sessions per week is a good balance between getting enough reps at high percentages to make continued progress, but keep lifters from getting injured. Let’s face it; no one makes progress when they are injured. So Monday, Wednesday, Friday afternoons are heavy sessions in the snatch and clean and jerk. Those three sessions make up the backbone of our training. We also train in the mornings on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, which are lighter technique sessions with no misses, working on crisp technique. On Monday and Wednesday after we do technique work in the mornings, we squat. Tuesday and Thursday are our recovery days where we do exercises that are easier to recover from. We may still go to max but we will do exercises such as power variations of the lifts or no hook grip work to limit the load we can use. Saturday is a strength day where we will squat heavy, push press, and do any other bodybuilding exercises that the individual athlete might do to stay healthy. We stick to singles in the lifts the majority of the year, but further out from a competition, we might do doubles or triples to max instead. In the strength exercises, we usually follow the Texas Method.

A general template might look as follows:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
PM Snatch –Max, 3x2@80% Power Snatch - Max Snatch –Max, 3x2@80% Power Snatch - Max Snatch –Max Squat – Heavy set of 5

Clean and Jerk – Max, 2x2@80%

Power Clean and Jerk - Max Clean and Jerk – Max, 2x2@80% Power Clean and Jerk - Max Clean and Jerk – Max Push Press – Heavy set of 5
    Push Press – 3x5   Push Press – 3x5 (-10% from Tuesday)   Bodybuilding
Snatch – Technique work
  Snatch – Technique work   Snatch – Technique work  
  Clean and Jerk – Technique work   Clean and Jerk – Technique work   Clean and Jerk – Technique work  
  Squat – (3-5)x5 heavy   Squat – 3x5 (-10-20% from


In order to reach your potential as a weightlifter, recovery must be spot on so you can stay healthy and build higher work capacity to get those extra kilos! In my opinion, recovery is broken into two categories: the 95 percent category and the 5 percent category. Everyone always talks about the 5 percent category, which includes ice baths, chiropractic, massage, foam rolling, stretching, stem, etc. You can find tons of information on how these things will make or break your training. The truth is these are important tools for recovery; however, they will never make up for a lack of attention to the 95 percent category.

In the 95 percent category you will first find sleep. For the competitive weightlifter training five to 12 sessions per week, a minimum of eight hours of sleep is required. I personally sleep about eight to 10 hours per night. Oftentimes, the same people who are barely getting six hours of sleep are always looking for the secrets of recovery in the 5 percent category. Do not overlook sleep. You cannot overcome sleep deprivation through any other recovery method.

The second piece of the 95 percent category is diet. First and foremost, you have to get enough calories to recovery from the amount of training you are doing. That is not a problem for most weightlifters, so once you have that covered, the cleaner you can eat, the better.

The last piece of the 95 percent category is overall happiness. When I am training well, it is usually linked to happiness outside of training. This means that if you are fighting with your spouse, arguing with your kids, dealing with a lot of stress at work and so forth, training will suffer. In order to train well, you must minimize stress outside of the gym. 

Sometimes the hardest things to change are in the 95 percent category. But trust me, if you organize your life to maximize your recovery, it will go much further than spending tons of money in the 5 percent category without changing the things you are lacking in the 95 percent category. Conclusion Keep in mind that these are my views and that no matter what, you must fully believe in what you are doing for it to work! The best program in the world will not work if you do not believe in it, and the worst program in the world will probably work if you are fully invested in it.

Train Hard, Sleep Well, and Eat Well.

Travis Cooper is the 2013 National Champion and Pan Am Bronze Medalist in the 85kg weight class. He trains with and competes for team MDUSA.



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