When Def Leppard wrote the song "women" I don't think they had weightlifting in mind. But considering the way the records have been falling for the last few years, they could have.
The women’s world records in weightlifting have been improving much faster than the mens records. Not surprising considering the length of time that women have been competing in the sport. The first women’s world championship wasn’t until the 1980’s, and women’s weightlifting did not become an olympic sport till 2000. Before it became an Olympic sport it was mostly western democracies that sent women to compete at the world’s, but with the advent of women being included in the olympic event even traditional weightlifting powerhouses like China and Russia became involved.
Compare that to the Mens sport, which has been around for over a hundred years, and in pretty much it’s present form since the 1940’s. Considering the length of time the women have had to improve verses the time for the men it is no wonder the mens records are increasing at a snails pace and the women are still improving fairly rapidly, Throw in the fact that culturally women are just not as likely to want to compete in weightlifting, or even be able to compete in some countries. In many ways our world is modern, but often not when it comes to what it is culturally acceptable for women. Here in the USA we are not all that far removed from when many people, even some doctors thought that lifting anything heavy might make it impossible for a woman to bear children.
That these attitudes continue to some extent is a shame, because women might be even better suited for weightlifting than men.
To start with, women are typically more flexible than men. Flexibility is generally an advantage in weightlifting because it can allow you to get in more ideal positions. Even the catch position in the clean and snatch can be lower for a flexible female compared to a male lifter. Catching lower means you usually don’t have to lift the bar as high, allowing more weight to be lifted.
Women tend to have a higher percentage of their mass in their lower bodies than men. The leg strength of female athletes is virtually identical to men when the amount of muscle mass is equalized. With modern lifting technique, the legs and hips supply most of the force needed to lift the weight while the upper bodies and particularly the arms supply very little. Women are much closer to men in lower body strength than upper body strength.
Men tend to have an advantage in upper body strength but in weightlifting this can actually be a disadvantage. As Bud Charniga puts it, “when you have a cannon its hard to keep from firing it.” So all the upper body and arm strength might not help men at all!
Women also tend to be able to work harder than men, and achieve higher training loads. This has been observed in so many places and so many countries that at this point it is a fact as far as I am concerned. Women seem to be able to tap deeper into the reserves their body has in order to continue to adapt when under extreme stress. I believe this might have something to do with women’s ability to bear children. It is hard to believe there could be any more stressful event than pregnancy and the birth of a child. It seems likely that the adaptation that enables women to deal with pregnancy might also make them better able to deal with other high stress situations and leave them with an greater ability to overcome extreme stress compared to men.
Women also tend to be easier to coach than men. Anyone who has coached young men, especially during their late teen years knows exactly what I am talking about. Too much testosterone and an ego that is often too big make the average 17 year old male very hard to coach. There is a time limit when it comes to participation in elite athletics. If several years are wasted because an athlete is un-coachable, you never get those years back.
Will the women’s world records keep climbing till they are even with the mens? Or might they climb even higher than the mens records records in some weight classes? I don’t think so. But a few years ago if someone had asked me if a woman would ever snatch double bodyweight I would have answered with an emphatic NO
Do you wonder how some coaches continually produce top lifters, while others never seem to develop champions? Over the past 2 decades Glenn Pendlay has continually produced champions. While other coaches gripe about a lack of talent where they live, Glenn moves across the country and somehow finds and develops lifters wherever he goes. From Donny Shankle and Caleb Ward in Wichita Falls, Texas to Jon North and Spencer Mormon at CalStrength in California, to Travis Cooper and James Tatum at MDUSA in South Carolina Glenn has consistently produced over and over again.
Programming for squats and deadlifts (as well as presses and push presses) is a little different than programming for snatches and clean and jerks. On the olympic lifts progress tends to come in spurts and it is rarely steady and consistent. On the slow lifts, every beginner should go through a long period of linear progress. Linear progress is easy to program, just do a little bit more every workout, or every week. But the weightlifting movements are hard to program that way. Lifts like the snatch and clean and jerk demand that you practice them with some minimum intensity to ensure the technique is similar to what is used on a maximal attempt in competition. I believe this minimum intensity is somewhere between 80 and 90% for practice to be useful, but the closer to 100% you get, the more useful the practice is. This is not the case with lifts like the squat or bench press, which can be practiced with much less weight and still done with technique that is very similar to what needs to be used with a maximum weight.
Because of this, programs for powerlifters usually have much more steady weekly increases than weightlifting programs. A bench press program can start with 60% of a lifters maximum and steadily increase 5 of 10% each week, usually while dropping reps per set. That is easy, it makes sense, and it works. In weightlifting we are forced to start with with a higher intensity to make sure we are lifting similarly to how we will be lifting a maximal weight in competition. But, the weight you can successfully lift on an exercise like the snatch it way more variable than on an exercise like the bench press. On an exercise like the bench press you can either lift the weight or you can’t. You are rarely, if ever, going to miss a bench press because of bad form. On the other hand, You can have a good day snatching and make 5 singles in a row with 100kg and make them all easily but 2 days later not be able to make a single lift with 90kg because your form is jut a bit off.
I still think there is room for linear programming in weightlifting, but it has to be modified quite a bit. As a weightlifter, you can and should work hard to increase your strength in the slow lifts like squat, bench press, deadlift, press, and push press. Programming for these lifts should have a fair amount of linear progression. Of course it will have to work around the snatch and clean and jerk training. You will have to modify your strength work when you are close to a weightlifting meet, for instance. It would be difficult to do your best effort on clean and jerk when you made PR on the squat earlier in the week.
Even when you have no important meet in sight it is important to think about what days of the week you are squatting heavy, and what days you are doing heavy weightlifting movements. It would probably not work to have your heaviest squat workout on Friday, then try to max your clean and jerk on Saturday. I usually program the heaviest day of olympic lifts on Friday, and the heaviest squat day on Saturday. There is another squat day on Monday, a front squat day on Wednesday(front squats are easier to recover from than back squats) and if deadlifts are done, they are usually done early in the week on Monday or Tuesday or done on Saturday, the day after the heaviest day on the weightlifting movements. This weekly schedule ensures that even when we are pushing the slow lifts hard, we are as recovered as possible when it is time to go heavy on the snatch and clean and jerk.
This interplay between the slow lifts and the competitive weightlifting movements is probably the most difficult part of programming for weightlifting. You have to figure out how to prioritize the snatch and clean and jerk enough to ensure that you continually make progress from a technical standpoint, as well as continually getting stronger on the slow lifts. Technical progress in the weightlifting movements and progress on exercises like squats, front squats, deadlifts, and pressing are both required to become the best weightlifter you can be.