September 20, 2019

USAW’s “Supercompensation” Programming Model

In the new year I found myself at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs, CO (along with 40 other coaches and 2 former Olympic athletes—Cara Heads and Oscar Chaplin III,  from 26 states and 2 foreign countries) attending the inaugural USAW (United States Weightlifting) Program Design Course—a course specifically designed to highlight the benefits of the supercompensation model for both weightlifting athletes and athletes looking to improve sport-specific performance.  I have set out a synapsis of the course curriculum below:

USAW‘s inaugural “Program Design Course” at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO.  This first of its kind program will cover the following topics: fundamentals of program design – philosophy and expected outcomes of program goals – the role of periodization in improving athlete performance – the concept of long term athletic development and its influence on training – the super compensation model approach to programming – the rationale behind exercise selection – sharing of training models – creating, editing and monitoring training programs (practical time with spreadsheets).  The program constitutes an 8-hour course covering the parameters of designing safe, effective and progressive programs for both competitive weightlifters and sports performance athletes.

Lead presenter Michael Conroy, USAW’s Director of Coaching Education, who is almost universally, and also somewhat iconically, referred to as “Conroy” laid out the basis for the supercompensation model and its specific components.  Note that this training model, at its core, builds from the well-established foundation of periodized training.  The model’s specific elements are built out of the following principles: 1) technique drives your program (note, Conroy believes, much like I do, that errors learned early on are almost irreversible), 2) emphasizes thinking “sets over reps”; recognizing that increased training volume is frequently, if not universally, linked to an increased incidence of injury, and 3) rest/recovery is as important, even a true equal, to work, and 4) all training is merely a “template,” that can/should be adjusted.  Note that Conroy admittedly recognizes that “less is more” is a tough sell to most American athletes.  I have reproduced the two slides from Conroy’s PowerPoint presentation that broadly summarize the supercompensation model:

Supercompensation Model for BOTH Sports Performance and Competitive Weightlifting

Supercompensation model for both sports performance and competitive weightlifting (reproduced with permission of Michael Conroy & USAW).

Weekly Training Cycles

Weekly training cycles (reproduced with permission of Michael Conory & USAW).

The super compensation model (originally attributed to Ivan Beritov, circa 1959—note, that like Conroy, Beritov placed emphasis on the quality of training over the quantity of training as well as the necessity for programmed rest and recovery) cycles through repeated progressive overload cycles, each with varying applications of stress—with the super compensation model, the focus is on weekly training through each cycle.  Consider the following from Beritov: “When an athlete is training, the body undergoes stimulations which traumatize it, wear it down, tire it out, and even destroy it.  If a recovery period follows these training sessions then the tissues will be restructured and the athlete’s body will come back, not only at its former level, but even surpass this level in the case of a sufficient stimulus.  If appropriate control measures are not used such a preponderance of break-down and build-up leads rapidly to injuries.”   The hope is that through managing the cycles and stimulus, each adapted to the athlete’s specific needs and abilities, that the athlete will be able to achieve uninterrupted and ongoing positive performance adaptations over extended periods of training time.   Important Note: The only difference in the supercompensation programming between the sports performance athlete and the completive weightlifting athlete are the exercises selected and plugged into the respective programs.  The following slide (summarizing the scientific contributions to the super compensation model of both Vladimir Zatsiorsky and Mel Siff) illustrates the application of the supercompensation programming:


(reproduced with permission of Michael Conroy & USAW)

I have reproduced the prescriptive intensities recommended by Conroy in the following table:

Week 1 2 3 4
Cycle One 70% 75% 65% 80%
Cycle Two 75% 80% 70% 90%
Cycle Three 85% 95% 80% 100%
Note: Every 3rd week of each cycle will have a reduction in both volume and intensity.

While the majority of Conroy’s presentation was directed at program design, i.e., the exercise prescriptions for each of the cycles and weeks within the super compensation model, a brief discussion of technique could not be avoided.  Sport is dynamic and the O-lifts (are as good as they can be bad).  The snatch and your clean and jerk (the two competitive Olympic lifts) represent the end result of all of an athlete’s training.   In Conroy’s opinion, the worst thing to do to correct a snatch or clean and jerk is to do these moves!  Rather, Conroy recommends working the analogs and assistance exercises, derivatives of the complete movements to train them up.  For emphasis, according to Coach Conroy, “[b]eing proficient in the snatch and the clean & jerk is the result of all the training that is do so the athlete can snatch and clean and jerk … [c]oaches should select exercises that will improve technique, increase work capacity and strengthen the body levers in both the pulling and receiving positions.”   Conroy identified the following seven classes of weightlifting movements: I. “Hang” Movements, II. “Power” Movements, III. “Block” Movements, IV.  “Combination Movements,  V. “Assistance” Movements, including A. Pulls, B. Presses, C. Squats, VI. Remedial Movements (note that the remedial exercises include hyperextensions, reverse hyperextensions, V-ups, abdominal crunches, hanging leg raises, isometric holds, etc., etc.), and VII. General Fitness Movements (i.e., isolated resistance movements).  The following slide clarifies the uses and application of the various classes of movements:

An Overview of the Types of Weightlifting Movements and Their Usage

An overview of the types of weightlifting movements and appropriate usage (reproduced with permission of Michael Conory & USAW).

Again, with ALL credit to Coach Conroy, consider the following exercise “menus” to be used for programming purposes:

Press in Snatch Snatch
Power Snatch Knee Snatch Split
Power Snatch Below Knee Snatch without moving Feet
Power Snatch Knee non Stop Snatch Jump on Box
Power Snatch Hip/Knee/Below Knee Snatch Stop after Start
Power Snatch Snatch/Below/Knee/Knee/Squat
Power Snatch Split Power Snatch/Snatch/Squat
Power Snatch/Squat Power Snatch/Overhead Squat
Muscle Snatch Snatch Pulls
Snatch from Hip Snatch Pull/Power Snatch/Overhead Squat
Snatch from Knee Power Snatch/Overhead Squat from Box
Snatch Knee non Stop Snatch Pulls from Box
Snatch Below Knee Snatch Pull/Power Snatch/Overhead Squat from Box
Snatch Box Knee Snatch Balance
Snatch Box Below Knee Snatch Push Press/Overhead Squat
Power Clean 2/3 of Thigh Clean
Power Clean Knee Clean Without Moving Feet
Power Clean Below Knee Clean Standing on 3/4″ Board
Power Clean more Stop Clean Jump on 3/4″ Board
Power Clean 2/3 of Thigh/Knee/Below Knee Clean Stop after Start
Power Clean Split Clean Below Knee/Knee/Start
Power Clean/Squat Power Clean/Front Squat
Power Straight Clean Clean Pulls
Clean from 2/3 Thigh Clean Pull/Power Clean/Front Squat
Clean from Knee Clean Pull
Clean Knee non Stop Power Clean/Front Squat from Box
Clean Below Knee Clean Pull from Box
Clean Box Knee Clean Pull/Power Clean/Front Squat from Box
Clean Box Below Knee
Press in Split
Press in Front
Press in Back
Push Press in Front
Push Press in Back
Power Jerk in Front
Power Jerk in Back
Split Jerk in Front
Split Jerk in Back
Power Clean Split From Box
Clean & Jerk
Overhead Squats
Back Squats
Front Squats

Reproduced with permission of Michael Conroy & USAW.

Working from these menus a coach can effectively advance positive adaptations for both the sports performance and competitive weightlifting athlete.  When combined with the remedial and general fitness movements, the variety in program design becomes essentially limitless.  Consider the following slide as it applies to exercise selection and our country’s Olympic weightlifting athletes:

Advanced Assistance Exercises Utilized by the USA Resident Team at the OTC (reproduced

Advanced assistance exercises utilized by the USA Resident Team at the OTC (reproduced with permission of Michael Conory and USAW).

With a firm grasp of both the supercompensation cycles and the relevant exercise selection menus, Coach Conroy directed us to work on actual programing via the multiple training spreadsheets that he provided—this somewhat interactive “breakout” session allowed us to experiment with both exercise selection and the selection of multifactorial training inputs (sets, reps, etc.).  In addition to providing “basic training” Excel-based programs, Conroy introduced training templates for readaptive training, conceptual training, classification, undersetting, “Calpian” training, as well as specialized (i.e. in season) sports performance programs.

In summary, whether designing programs for the sports performance athlete or the competitive weightlifter, the supercompensation model allows for continuous positive adaptations.  Supercompensation supports what should be the goals of ALL training programs, i.e. 1) improved performance, 2) reduce the rate and intensity, if not prevent, injury, 3) result in improvements in technique, and 4) increase an athlete’s work capacity.  As Coach Conroy added, in the quest of these goals, all training programs should contain the following qualities: “1. [e]asy to understand and monitor, 2. [b]e of a cyclic nature, 3. [h]ave build in checks of progress, 4. [a]llow  [for] individual creativity [both coach and athlete], and 5. [a]llow for the inclusion of remedial movements for error correction.”   Great presentation Coach Conroy!

A Final Takeaway:  7 Points to Key On When Coaching The Olympic Movements

Early in the day, Conroy indicated that there were 7 key points that every coach needs to be able to identify to successfully work with athletes when instructing the Olympic moves.  As the day drew to a close and as part of the open Q&A segment, I asked for Conroy to enumerate the 7 “keys” (what follows comes directly from my notes):

  1. Start of lift: body levers are tight (take all the slack out).
  2. The barbell comes back to lifter IMMEDIATELY (does not go around the knees) – think “MUST KILL HORIZONTAL DISPLACEMENT”!
  3. Hips and shoulder rise at the same rate.
  4. The 2nd pull MUST BE faster than the 1st !   There is no such thing as a “hip pop” the pop would be horizontal displacement (instead, as soon as brush, the shrug occurs), see again, #2 supra.
  5. The shoulders are tight (traps must be engaged, this provides the fulcrum to pull under the bar).
  6. The arms only bend to pull the athlete under.
  7. The feet move from the jump to land quickly and quietly (the quicker the feet are on the ground the faster you can push up against it, athlete should strive to be “ninja quiet”).  Note: The difference between the jump and land is only 1 shoe width, this controls the area of base.

I put together a small gallery of  images from the OTC … if you ever get a chance to visit the facility, I can highly recommend the experience (it is exciting to be on the training campus in any capacity … tours are offered daily (you can obtain more information here):

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