LTAD Overview

Canadian Sport for Life (CS4L) is a movement to improve the quality of sport and physical activity in Canada through improved athlete training and better integration between all stakeholders in the sport system, including sport organizations, education, recreation and health. A key feature of CS4L is Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD), a developmental pathway whereby athletes follow optimal training, competition, and recovery regimens from childhood through all phases of adulthood.

CS4L has been gathering momentum since the publication of the 2005 resource paper Canadian Sport for Life. Since 2005, every national sport organization in Canada has developed sport-specific LTAD guidelines for their athletes. Further work has been done by provincial organizations and governmental groups and agencies to promote CS4L in their jurisdictions.

The vision behind CS4L is to reshape how we support sport and train athletes at all levels in Canada – from children to adults, from towns to cities, from provinces and regions through to the National level. In realizing this vision, we aim to keep more Canadians active for life with recreational sport and physical activity, and at the same time help Canadians in all sports win more medals internationally.

For the Canadian Weightlifting Federation, LTAD provides a comprehensive framework for our athlete and program development throughout Canada. This site provides a condensed summary of the CWFHC implementation of LTAD. It is intended to give an overview of LTAD as it relates to Olympic Weightlifting. But it is just a summary. It is strongly recommended that coaches, athletes, administrators, and all those who are interested in the development of Olympic Weightlifting in Canada read the documents linked below in their entirety.

The 7 Stages of LTAD

LTAD identifies seven stages to describe the physical, mental, emotional and social development of an athlete from childhood to adulthood based on principles of maturation. Training and competition guidelines for each stage describe training and competition goals, optimal ratios of training to competition hours, and targets for development of technical, physical, psychological and ancillary capacities in the athlete. Through a systematic approach, LTAD optimizes athlete development at each stage of maturation and avoids the hazards associated with arbitrarily imposing adult training regimens and competition formats on children.

The seven stages of the generic LTAD pathway are described below in simplified terms. Note that the seven stages of the Weightlifting LTAD represent a sport-specific adaptation of these stages; however, the developmental principles remain the same.

1 - Active Start

(ages 0-6)

Children are introduced to basic physical movement and activity in play settings. The emphasis is on fun and engagement in daily physical activity, not competition. Healthy activity and play stimulate development of their physical coordination and gross motor skills along with brain function, social skills, emotions, imagination, confidence and positive self-esteem.

2 - FUNdamentals

(ages 6-9 males, 6-8 females)

Through a variety of physical activities, children are introduced to fundamental movement skills such as running, jumping, throwing, hitting and kicking – activities that will later form the basis for most sports skills. Like the Active Start stage, the emphasis is on FUN.

3 - Learn to Train

(ages 9-12 males, 8-11 females)

Children transform their FUNdamental skills into sport-specific skills (e.g. Weightlifting skills) within structured training settings, though the emphasis is still on learning a variety of sports and avoiding early specialization.

4 - Train to Train

(ages 12-16 males, 11-15 females)

Pre-adolescents and adolescents consolidate their basic sport-specific skills and may begin moving towards specialization in one sport (e.g. Weightlifting), especially if they are identified as possessing special talent and choose to pursue high performance in their sport. However, they are still encouraged to participate in at least one other sport or activity, as well as maintain a baseline of athletic capacities. For athletes specializing in other sports, Weightlifting should be considered an integral component of training as it improves physical fitness.

5 - Train to Compete

(ages 16-23 +/- males, 15-21 +/- females)

Individuals have specialized in one sport and now work to optimize all of their athletic capacities – technical, tactical, physical, mental, emotional and more. Training regimens are intense, and the aim is to prepare the athlete for elite competition and podium performances.

6 - Train to Win

(ages 19+ males, 18+ females)

The elite athlete’s physical, technical, tactical, mental, and lifestyle capacities are fully established. The focus of training shifts to the maximization of performance in order to win national and international competitions.

7 - Active for Life

(any age)

Athletes transition from a competitive focus to lifelong participation in recreational sport and/or physical activity. This transition may occur at any time during the previous stages, though ideally no earlier than the Learn to Train stage, when individuals have mastered basic “physical literacy” (see FUNdamentals under The 10 Key Factors of LTAD).

The 10 Key Factors in LTAD

The 7 stages of LTAD have been defined according to 10 broad key factors that have been identified for successful athlete development. The 10 key factors relate to processes of human maturation and how these processes interact with training, competition and recovery program design through the athlete’s lifetime. These key factors have been gleaned from the most current research in sport science, together with observed best practices in training, competition and coaching around the world.

1 - Excellence Takes Time

In Olympic Weightlifting, historical evidence suggests a minimum of 8 years of training is required to develop the ability to be able to compete at an international level. An additional 4+ years of training is necessary to compete at an elite international level, such as at the World Championships and Olympic Games.

Clearly, the development of an Olympic Weightlifter is a long-term process. Weightlifting coaches and athletes should therefore avoid a short-term focus on performance as this can be detrimental to the development of the Weightlifting athlete.

2 - The FUNdamentals

All sports are based on fundamental movement skills and fundamental sports skills. Fundamental movement skills are closely associated with the ABCs – Agility, Balance, Coordination and Speed – and they include basic movement skills such as running, jumping, skipping, throwing, and catching. Fundamental sports skills are those fundamental movement skills applied to a basic sport activity, such as throwing a basketball to score a basket, or catching a baseball after a batter has hit it into the air.

Research has demonstrated that children will experience more success and achievement in sport if they are trained to be physically “literate” in these skills prior to their adolescent growth spurt.

Fundamental movement skills and fundamental sport skills should be widely incorporated into the early stages of Olympic Weightlifting training in order to supplement the training provided by other components of the sport system, such as schools and recreation centres.

3 - Specialization

Some sports require “early specialization” to obtain elite performance levels, while other sports see better athlete performance in “late specialization”.

International trends over the past two decades have seen the age of specialization in Olympic Weightlifting shift from 14 years in the 1970s to 10 years in the 1990s. The decreasing age of specialization does not affect the time required to become proficient in Olympic Weightlifting. However, it does mean that elite Olympic Weightlifters are appearing in competition at younger ages.

Olympic Weightlifting requires a foundation of fundamental motor skills, specifically jumping, coordination and body awareness. Therefore, care should be taken to ensure specialization in Olympic Weightlifting does not compromise the development of the fundamentals.

Older athletes should not be discouraged from specializing in Olympic Weightlifting. Olympic Weightlifting success is largely affected by muscular strength and power, and these characteristics are best developed post-adolescence. As well, athletes from other sports can specialize late in Olympic Weightlifting and still achieve a high level of success. Many of Canada’s best Olympic Weightlifters have transferred over from other sports, including gymnastics, martial arts and athletics. Participation in these sports contributes to the development of a high level of physical literacy that can be beneficial for success in Olympic Weightlifting.

4 - Developmental Age

Everyone passes through the same stages of development from early childhood through adolescence, but the timing and rate of development varies. This is described as the difference between chronological age and developmental age. Two children may be the same chronological age, but they may be four to five years apart in developmental age. Weightlifting coaches need to take into account these differences in developmental age when they design programs for their adolescent and post-adolescent athletes.

Training of the Olympic Weightlifter should consider both developmental and training age. The optimal age range for entry into Olympic Weightlifting is 10-14 years. Young athletes should be introduced to Olympic Weightlifting technique prior to their growth spurt (generally 10-11 years for girls and 13-14 years for boys). Regardless of their developmental age, training programs for beginners (i.e. weightlifters with low training age) should share an emphasis on technical/skill development. However, other aspects of their training program, such as strength development, will depend on their developmental age.

5 - Trainability

Trainability refers to the body’s responsiveness to training stimuli at different stages of growth and maturation. The physiological systems of the athlete can be trained at any age, but there are sensitive periods when individuals are especially responsive to specific types of training (e.g. stamina, strength, speed, skill and suppleness).

Accordingly, to reach their full genetic potential, Weightlifters need to receive the right type of training at the correct stage of development. If the sensitive periods are missed, Weightlifters may grow to be strong and skilled, but they may never be as strong and skilled as they could have been if their training had made maximum use of the sensitive periods or “windows” of optimal trainability.

6 - Physical, Mental, Cognitive, and Emotional Development

As athletes grow from childhood through adolescence, they experience significant changes in their physical, mental, cognitive, and emotional capacities. Coaches need to consider these changes as they plan training regimens and competition programs for their athletes. Failure to account for these changes may result in mental or emotional burnout, undue mental stress, anxiety, diminished confidence, and early exit from the sport. Sport participation is an important avenue to developmental skills that contribute to success in and out of sport. Athletes participating in organized training programs develop morals consistent with fair play, discipline and determination, and work ethic.

Research indicates that children and adolescents participating in Olympic Weightlifting and related activities have better grades, longer attention spans, and more positive mood states. Experience has also shown that elite Olympic Weightlifters display the ability for intense concentration, muscular relaxation, or mental flexibility – skills that should be systematically developed throughout the various developmental stages.

7 - Periodization

Periodization refers to creating logical and scientific-based schedules for athlete training, competition, and recovery, giving consideration to choice of exercise, order of exercise, volume, intensity, and rest. Periodization plans typically address training and competition over the moderate term, such as a yearly training plan or a quadrennial (4 year) training plan. Periodization takes into account the most important competitions and makes allowances so the Olympic Weightlifter can achieve maximum performance at these competitions.

At every stage of athlete development, periodization plans should be adjusted to account for each athlete’s growth, maturation, and trainability. For more information on periodization, please refer to Training Periodization for the Olympic Weightlifter.

8 - Calendar Planning for Competition

Calendar planning for competition is critical to athlete development at all stages. Different stages of development and maturation have different requirements for the type, frequency, and level of competition.

In the early stages of an Olympic Weightlifting career, development of physical capacities takes precedence over high-level competition. Club competitions in the form of individual or team events, or specific skill tests such as lifting technique or jumping ability, provide an opportunity to assess and monitor each athlete’s progress.

At later stages, the focus shifts to more formal competition. The events calendar should provide further developmental events (Inter-club or Provincial competitions), selection events (Regional competitions), and major events (National and International competitions).

For elite weightlifters, an Olympic quadrennial (4 year) plan should be established. Regardless of each athlete’s level, the competition schedule should be established based on the athlete’s individual developmental needs.

9 - System Alignment and Integration

LTAD recognizes that each athlete’s development is affected by the variety of different sport and physical activity environments they experience as they grow through childhood and adolescence. These range from club sport programs to physical education programs at school, recreational activities, and school sports.

LTAD encourages these different sport groups, institutions, and organizations to work cooperatively to serve the best interests of the athletes, ensuring that they are mutually supportive, clear in their roles and responsibilities, and aware of how they contribute to the process of development. In short, Olympic Weightlifters will develop best in a coordinated sport system that is clearly defined, logically structured, and based upon consistent principles.

Just as the Olympic Weightlifters on the competition platform must integrate and align their movements, the components of the Olympic Weightlifting system must integrate and align their activities. All parts of the Canadian Olympic Weightlifting system – clubs, schools, provincial associations, CWFHC – need to promote integration and alignment with one another. Similarly, Canadian Olympic Weightlifting needs to interact with the community of health professionals, colleges & universities, professional organizations, and private enterprises.

10 - Continuous Improvement

LTAD is based on the best available research in sports science and the best practices in athlete training around the world, but sport science and training methodologies are always being refined. The ‘continuous improvement’ approach can ensure that Olympic Weightlifting in Canada reacts in a timely manner to new scientific research and sport-specific innovations. Olympic Weightlifting should be prepared to embrace emerging innovations in physical education, sport, and recreation to ensure progress and reliability in the systematic and logical delivery of training programs at all ages.

Trainability and the 10 Ss

In considering trainability, LTAD looks at 10 Ss of training that describe ten distinct capacities of the athlete. The ten Ss include five physical capacities: stamina (endurance), strength, speed, skill and suppleness (flexibility). Beyond these five physical capacities, there are five general Ss that complete the holistic development of the athlete: (p)sychology, structure/stature, sustenance, schooling and socio-cultural. Each of these capacities is trainable throughout an athlete’s lifetime, but there are clearly sensitive periods when each capacity will undergo optimal development through training.

If Weightlifting athletes are to fulfill their genetic potential, correct training must be provided during the sensitive periods or “windows of optimal trainability” indicated in the diagram above. However, since the sensitive periods can vary between individuals according to their growth, maturation, and genetic predisposition, a long-term approach to athlete development is needed to ensure that individuals who respond slowly or late to training stimuli are not deprived of opportunities. In addition, measurement and monitoring should be used to determine each athlete’s Developmental age in line with the diagram above.

Again, all of the 10 Ss can be developed at any stage or age, but the sensitive periods provide the best opportunities for the greatest gains in the long-term development of the athlete.

1 - Stamina (Endurance)

Olympic Weightlifting requires two specific types of stamina. One type of endurance required is the ability to recover rapidly between sets of exercise. The second type of endurance is the ability to sustain brief high intensity actions over a long duration (i.e. training session or competition). Both types of endurance are optimally developed during puberty as the cardio-respiratory and muscular systems mature. Stamina is then maintained throughout the career of the Olympic Weightlifter.

2 - Strength

In Olympic Weightlifting, two periods are emphasized in the development of strength and power. The first period for increasing strength is during puberty. Strength is proportional to the cross-sectional area of muscle; therefore, increases in muscle mass during puberty are essential for determining the maximum potential strength of the young Olympic Weightlifter.

In addition, Olympic Weightlifting requires greater absolute strength than other sports. Increasing strength post-puberty is therefore required for success in Olympic Weightlifting. Large increases in maximal strength may occur without increases in muscle mass. Olympic Weightlifting also requires explosive strength, which is also developed through neural adaptation. The optimal period for neural development of strength (maximal and explosive) occurs after cessation of growth of the musculoskeletal system (>17 years).

3 - Speed

Olympic Weightlifting requires a specific type of speed during loaded movement. While maximum speed during Olympic Weightlifting is high, it is low compared to other sports involving throwing and kicking motions. Olympic Weightlifting, however, requires high speed while interacting with a loaded object (barbell) that may exceed the body mass of the athlete. Olympic Weightlifting-specific speed is best developed concurrently with the development of Olympic Weightlifting technique. Therefore, the optimal window of trainability for Olympic Weightlifting-specific speed is during the acquisition of Olympic Weightlifting technique (11-14 years) and, like skill, is refined on a continual basis.

4 - Skill

Three periods can be identified for training Olympic Weightlifting skills: acquisition, refinement during growth, and refinement as an adult. Basic Olympic Weightlifting skills are best learned prior to the onset of the growth spurt/PHV. The basic elements of Olympic Weightlifting technique can be acquired within 1-2 years of training. However, refinement of Olympic Weightlifting technique is an ongoing process throughout the athlete’s career. As the Olympic Weightlifter goes through the growth spurt, technique must be refined to match changes in the body’s anthropometric proportions. Finally, as the Olympic Weightlifter reaches elite levels, where the focus shifts to development of strength and power, technique must be refined to match increases in strength and power.

5 - Suppleness (Flexibility)

Development of suppleness prior to the growth spurt is important to allow the athlete to develop proper Olympic Weightlifting technique. During the growth spurt, continued flexibility training is important as increases in height may initially decrease flexibility. Suppleness should then be maintained throughout the Olympic Weightlifter’s career.

6 - (P)Sychology

Sport is a physical and mental challenge; maintaining high levels of concentration while remaining relaxed with the confidence to succeed is a skill essential to long-term performance in any sport. Possessing “mental toughness” while training and competing under extreme pressure and duress is especially important to success at the high performance level.

To develop mental toughness for success at elite levels, training programs must address the specific gender and LTAD stage of athletes. Training programs should include key mental components identified by sport psychologists: concentration, confidence, motivation, and handling pressure. As an athlete progresses through LTAD stages, mental training will evolve from: having fun and respecting opponents; to visualization and self-awareness; to goal setting, relaxation, and positive self-talk. To develop mastery, these basic skills are then tested in increasingly difficult competitive environments.

Ultimately, the planning, implementing, and refining of mental strategies for high-level competition will have a large impact on podium performances. Consequently, mental training is critical at all stages of LTAD as dealing with success and failure will impact athlete decisions to continue participating in the sport and physical activity in general, affecting both their active lifestyle and likelihood of podium performances.

7 - Structure / Stature

This component describes the six phases of growth in the human body and links them to the sensitive periods or “windows” of optimal trainability. Stature (individual height) is measured before, during, and after maturation to track the developmental age of the athlete. By tracking developmental age, coaches can identify the sensitive periods of skill acquisition and physical development (stamina, strength, speed and suppleness) and adjust training programs accordingly.

8 - Sustenance

Sustenance recognizes a broad range of components that serve the central purpose of replenishing the body, thereby preparing the athlete for the volume and intensity required for optimal training. Sustenance addresses several areas: nutrition, hydration, rest, sleep, and regeneration.

Of primary importance in Weightlifting is the need for proper nutrition and the correct timing of meals. The high training volumes and intensities, and the large muscle mass built through training, must be sustained through correct nourishment. Carbohydrates and fats are required to supply energy to working muscles, while protein is needed to build muscle. A proper dietary plan will also build good habits that promote healthy eating beyond the competitive years. The timing of meals is important as these nutrients must be available in the body for training and recovery.

9 - Schooling

Each athlete’s school needs must be considered in the design of training and competition programs. Interference from other school sports should be minimized, and it is essential to have communication and cooperation between the different coaches who deliver training and competition programs.

In addition to school sports and physical education classes, academic loads and timing of exams must be taken into account. When possible, training sessions and competitions should complement, not conflict, with the timing of major academic events at school. Coaches should monitor potential overstress in their athletes resulting from schooling, exams, peer groups, family, and boyfriend or girlfriend relationships, as well as increased training volume and intensities. A good balance needs to be established between all factors, and coaches and parents should work together to maintain the balance.

10 - Socio-Cultural

The socio-cultural aspects of sport are significant and must be managed through proper planning. Athletes are socialized through their sport beginning at the community level, and eventually their participation can lead them to a diverse array of multicultural experiences if they pursue international competition.

As athletes begin travelling larger distances for competition, recovery periods might include education about the competition location, such as history, geography, architecture, cuisine, literature, music, and visual arts. With planning and foresight, Weightlifting can offer much more than a simple commute between hotel room and the competition venue: it can become a powerful means to develop socio-cultural awareness and enrich the lives of our athletes.

Olympic Weightlifting LTAD

The following LTAD stage descriptions for Olympic Weightlifting are based on international research linked to the Canadian LTAD model. In all of the Weightlifting LTAD stages, the first consideration is the athlete’s Training Age (TA), second is Developmental Age (DA), and third is Chronological Age (CA). In the spirit of continuous improvement, the Weightlifting LTAD Work Group of the CWFHC will continue to gather information and refine knowledge on the needs and demands for athlete training, competition and recovery at each of these stages.

1 - Physical Literacy

CA: M 0-10, F 0-9 TA: 0

Olympic Weightlifting is a late specialization sport, so we must depend on parents, other sports and physical education to prepare young children to be physically literate when reaching the age to begin our sport. Throughout the Physical Literacy stage, children should be learning fundamental movements and linking them together into play.

2 - Learn to Train

CA: M 10-13, F 9-12 TA: 1-2

Motor pathways in 9–13 year olds are very receptive to learning skills and technique. This is one of the most important stages of motor development. At this stage, children are developmentally ready to begin learning a range of sport-specific skills that will become increasingly refined at later LTAD stages. Children still participate in a variety of sports and physical activities.

  • Overall physical development

  • Begin to develop athlete motivation, dedication, commitment and discipline in training and competition

  • Focus on basic technique

  • 100 - 200 training hours per year

  • 4 - 6 competitions

3 - Train to Train

CA: M 13-17, F 12-16 TA: 3-5

This is a critical stage for young athletes as they must refine their technique to accommodate changes with puberty (i.e. growth spurt). Aspiring weightlifters should begin to specialize at this stage, as an increase in the volume of the competition lifts is required to achieve technical perfection. With the growth spurt, athletes will have a greater capacity for developing strength and endurance.

  • Overall physical development

  • Improve focus - emotional and mental preparedness

  • Achieve technique perfection

  • 200 - 400 hours per year

  • 6 - 8 competitions

4 - Train to Compete

CA: M 17-21, F 16-20 TA: 5-8

This is the most important phase of training for Junior Weightlifters who are aiming for high-performance competition. Athletes must develop their work capacity to sustain the high frequency of training required in this stage (daily, and possibly twice daily). More competitions should be added to the competition schedule, particularly national and international competitions, to develop the psychology to perform in pressure situations.

  • Harmonious development of the whole body with great emphasis being placed on areas which will ensure a high level of efficiency in Olympic Weightlifting

  • Develop psychological abilities to better prepare for stressful training and intense competitions

  • Perfect technique through continuous refinement of skills

  • 400 - 600 hours per year

  • 6 - 8 competitions

5 - Learn to Win

CA: M 21-25, F 20-25 TA: 8-12

At this advanced stage, the training and competition environments must be elite calibre. Athletes should be training around other elite weightlifters, and there should be regularly scheduled training camps and regular competition at major events. Specialized athlete support becomes essential to optimizing performance, including sport scientists, nutritionists, massage therapists, physiotherapists and others on an Integrated Support Team (IST).

  • Continue to maximize strength of the main muscle groups, speed in conjunction with strength, power endurance, and neuromuscular coordination

  • Perform in highly competitive situations under pressure

  • Continued refinement and stabilization of skills

  • 600 - 800 hours per year

  • 4 - 6 competitions

6 - Train to Win

CA: M 25+, F 25+ TA: 12+

All of the athlete’s physical, technical, tactical (including decision-making skills), mental, personal and lifestyle capacities are fully established with the focus of training shifting to maximizing performance. Athletes become ambassadors of the sport and role models for other weightlifting athletes.

  • Continue to maximize strength of the main muscle groups, speed in conjunction with strength, power endurance, and neuromuscular coordination

  • Mental and life skills should be at the highest level to be able to cope with all stresses in and out of competition and training

  • Refinement and mastery of technical skills through continuous work

  • 800 - 1000 hours per year

  • 3 - 5 competitions

7 - Lift for Life

Any age (after developing physical literacy)

Lift for Life includes participants of any age who enjoy Olympic Weightlifting in a non-competitive setting, or recreational lifters who enjoy competing for fun. It also includes athletes competing in Masters events at the Provincial, National or International level. It is key that weightlifting athletes have a positive experience in the sport, so they can transition to other roles after they leave the competitive stream (coach, official, volunteer, or sport leader).

  • Maintain physical abilities and skills while having fun

  • Lifelong enjoyment of Olympic Weightlifting

  • Move from high-performance competition to lifelong competitive sport through age group competition

  • 2 - 3 competitions