Fil’s Fast Thoughts: Motivating lazy weightlifters

Filip Taylor
4min read

Lessons learnt. Motivating talented athletes and the "PT" side of weightlifting coaching. Today we explore how to motivate new, young and lazy athletes to help them reach their potential in the sport.

We’ve all met them. Those ‘do the bare minimum’ type athletes with immense talent. They do half the work to get twice the results.

You either idolise them, ignore them or resent them altogether. But you can't do anything about them. So let's consider what they're doing that you're not.

Whilst annoying.. There’s a lot to learn from this kind of athlete and your lack of comparative results may be down to;

  • You doing too much.. 
  • Them having already put in years of hard graft you’ve not seen;
  • The work they do is simply right on the money, so they don’t need much of it;
  • They're incredibly genetically gifted; or
  • They're supplementing their income. If you catch our drift.

You'll never know until you ask. (Its likely a combination of at least 4 of the 5 above). But bottom line is, if they stick out the sport, they're going to do well. But that IF's a big one. So as a coach, how do you keep these talented athletes coming back to your gym? How do you keep youngsters interested long enough to figure out whether they might have what it takes? 

Here's some of the more successful strategies we've seen implemented.

Motivating talent: the “PT” side of weightlifting coaching

Talented athletes are rare, and rarer still are talented athletes who are willing to work. You typically find those who always make easy gains will continue doing easy training, or will hit a brick wall when they get to a standard where everyone is already as talented as they are.

You see a ton of this at internationals, where everyone’s already talented – but the hard workers (and massive juiceheads) stand out among the rest. It’s clear that there’s more than talent, even if it’s a necessity for the upper echelons of weightlifting.

It’s your job as a coach to keep these unicorns coming back to your gym. 

Give these individuals enough time in the sport and they’ll be pushing for international selection. It’s a case of when rather than if.

But the biggest if of all is whether you as a coach can do these people justice. They’re a breed that you’ll get plenty of “shine” from, but you need to be able to channel it into something more than just easy results and a cool superstar for your Instagram reels.

There’s a huge difference between recruiting coaches – who can convince many talented athletes to represent them – and those who can build talented athletes into real legendary lifters.

Coaching Freak Athletes: Can I keep them entertained?

It’s far too easy to jump straight to the “drill technique” conclusion and have athletes repeating PVC pipe drills for weeks on end.

Yes, that would be the best way to learn before progressing onto a loaded bar. But your athletes are human and, in the age of distraction, it’s not hard to find something

more fun than jumping up and down holding a plastic pipe. There’s plenty this person would rather do and you need to consider it.

 Rule 1: Make it fun

You need to make sessions fun, challenging, interesting AND useful. Not allowing your athletes and unicorns (some) freedom to do what they want in the gym will make them resentful and likely not listen to you anyway. 

Use exercises they like as a reward for doing the boring technical bits then don’t. A little casual bribery and positive reinforcement goes a long way. You don't have to do things like you're in a Bulgarian training hall - you're in a gym in the UK with people who do weightlifting because they like it. There's no need for stuffiness when nobody is doing anything important.

You can have fun with training, especially in children and the "recreational" trainees. Respect everyone's experience level, goals, and intended "outcome": for some people, that's just getting a bit better and having a lark with their mates at the gym. If you're a serious competitor, you can have serious training - if not, there's a balance between respectful fun and serious training you need to strike for each individual.

Remember: when the main challenge an athlete faces is staying engaged, that's your top priority, and everything comes second to that.

Rule 2: Start at the boring stuff

Make a game of the warmup routine, using something as simple as “the snatch game”. Where athletes race a partner into their snatch bottom position (when the coach claps their hands).

It’s both useful for developing speed into a deep squat position, it raises the heart rate ready for the session to follow and develops that competitive spirit necessary for success in any sport. 

We’ve even seen space hoppers brought into kids classes to work on coordination and balance. Not the most practical for an adults class. But ‘bulldog’ is often used in rugby: why can’t we have a WL equivalent? Because we’re all being stuffy, crashing bores.

Rule 3: Ignore the rules sometimes, iterate, and innovate!

The more out there (but still useful) the idea, the more likely people are to enjoy coming to your gym. 

The more they like it, the more often they come back. The more they come back, the more useful training you can make them do. And once they start seeing the results of that useful training, it becomes a little bit easier to retain their interest. 

During boring cycles of ‘volume’ training, include a repetition max at a certain % challenge in your classes on a Friday with a nominal prize (or punishment) for the athlete which comes first / last. We all love punishing people in groups for the fun and community feel of it.

Make a game of the technical exercise. See who can stand the closest to a wall whilst performing an overhead squat or a snatch pull. 

But, most importantly, build a community and a culture. These will motivate all kinds of people more effectively than you can by yourself. If you have a good environment to train in, exciting things happening in training and friendships developing. Athletes, including the unicorns, will come back. 

5x5 squats on a Saturday morning suck. But with a group of pals doing the same sucky session with the promise of a team breakfast afterwards. It might just make for an enjoyable character-building experience. 

We love bitching. It’s better to do so with the gang, rather than just sitting there in a miserable, clinical, dead gym between sets you’d rather not be doing!


There's time between sets to complain, take a drink, sack up, and think about what to do better next time. Then it's right back in - don't make it boring for the sake of it, and remember you're not the whole gym - there's a culture and personality that exists completely independently!

Am I good enough to coach talented athletes?

You've kept your athletes engaged and motivated and found yourself a unicorn. The question now is "can I do this person justice".

If you’re asking yourself this question, you're probably within the genuine minority wanting the best for your athletes. 

Good. The humility to acknowledge that you may not have the answers or experience to coach this person to their true potential likely also means you have the get-up and go to continue learning. Rather than giving them the same ol’ program and using their training footage as Instagram fodder for how good of a coach you are. (They would be performing that well with or without you, so give them the credit, not yourself a pat on the back..) 

 If you do find yourself with one of these gifted athletes, follow a few of these basics:

1. Do the best you can.

Coach them the same way you would anyone else and any other beginner. Don’t do anything different The fundamentals of the sport don’t change all of a sudden because of perceived skill level. 

 2. Build a relationship with them.

You’re a coach and a mentor, you grow and develop together. It’s a working partnership and it goes both ways. Experiment, plan and work through problems, together. 

3. Take them to competitions early and often.

(Even if they’re not lifting)

Expose them to the competition environment, the thrill, the excitement, the disappointment. Get them excited to compete and desensitise them to the nerves at the same time. 

This is for both you and them. You learn how to coach them in competition, you learn more about the competitive coaching environment and you’re both exposed to new and more experienced coaches.

It’s not a far stretch to meet a national level coach in the local open warm up room. 

4. Believe in yourself – and justify it

If you have any doubts about your programming and coaching of the unicorn you’ve found yourself with. What better way than to sound board ideas against the more experienced coaches. 

Each will have their own opinion, but speak to enough of them and you’ll find the common ground and you’ll develop your own coaching philosophy. 

Getting your unicorn athletes name and face out there early will sure get them noticed as they progress rapidly through the ranks. Exposure for both you as a coach and them as an athlete is never a bad thing. 

Final Thoughts

The final thing to remember is that you don’t need to be the best coach to help people achieve their goals. Just make sure you’re constantly trying to get better and ensure you’re always giving your athletes the absolute best possible experience – both in terms of training experience and the results they get from it.

You should grow with your athletes and this is more of a judge of your ability than just the first impression you make, or how many talented athletes you can recruit. You don’t have to be perfect off the bat, but you should strive for it every day, week, and month with your athletes.

There are always going to be lazy, talented athletes – you can either complain about it or roll with it and get good at coaching them. If you can wrangle these high-potential athletes, they’ll probably teach you more about weightlifting than you could teach them – and that’s perfect for both of you.

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