Shrugged Collective

Olympic lifting and building strength


Olympic lifting has gained tremendous momentum over the last few years.

To excel in Crossfit it’s now mandatory for you to be highly efficient in the snatch, clean & jerk. Beyond fitness, many new athletes are now also devoting chunks of their training year to the sport of weightlifting, and they’re getting stronger and stronger all the time.

Regardless of your specific goals, programming for progress in these lifts can get confusing.  On one hand, the lifts are extremely technical. For this reason, new athletes require almost daily technique work with light loads. But that’s not enough, because you also have to get strong and fast if you ever hope to put a heavy barbell overhead. Light weight alone just won’t cut it.

So here’s the challenge – How do you combine both light and heavy training? How can you best build both technique and strength for the Olympic lifts?

Here’s a great place to start.

 
Think position-specific strength first.  If you haven’t been doing weightlifting very long, maybe 6-12 months or less, then you should spend a great deal of your time getting stronger in some key positions.  If you want to snatch, clean & jerk more weight then it doesn’t make sense to just get stronger on lifts like the squat, bench or deadlift. The strength you can gain with these movements is tremendous, but that won’t count for much if you still struggle for position in an overhead squat. Here’s an example of a position-specific training day where the goal is to build the snatch:

  • Snatch-grip push press from behind the neck – Build at your own pace to an 8-repetition maximum (RM).
  • Overhead squat with a 10-second pause in whole – Work up to a challenging 1-RM.
  • 3-Position snatch deadlift – This will build strength where you need it most. Pause for 2-seconds at mid-shin, right off the floor, then again just past the knees and in the power position. 5 sets of 5 reps is more than enough. Use a challenging load, but don’t lose position.
  • Snatch-grip back extensions – Put the barbell on your back and raise your head so that your body is parallel to the ground. Perform 4 sets of 6-8 reps, with about rest 1-2 minutes rest.
Want programming that focuses on the exact position-specific strength you need to excel at the Olympic lifts? Click the image below.

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Pause work is your friend.  Travis Mash wrote an article a while back on how to work pauses into your training for increased pulling strength. But the awesome thing is that this style of training actually makes you stronger at everything, not just your pulls. In a nutshell, you want to spend plenty of time in the beginning and end of all key movements, particularly the toughest ones. For example, pausing your snatch deadlift 1 inch off the ground will build overall pulling strength. Sit in the hole for 5-seconds on your heavy overhead squats, then briefly again at the top. That will greatly improve your overall mobility and stability. You can pause for 3-seconds in the receiving position of the split jerk…Wherever you weak. This work will not only ensure that you get stronger where it matters most, but when it’s time to add some speed and load to the lifts you’ll also be confident and strong enough to control the barbell. That’s a huge limiting factor for most athletes.

Balance speed and strength. In just a few weeks all this position-specific work with pauses will have you feeling much more confident in all key positions of the snatch, clean & jerk. At this point you want to start adding in some speed to your primary lifts, while you also keep balance by working your strength still. I like to program speed lifts early in my training sessions, when fatigue is minimal. This allows you to move as fast as possible with crisp technique. Then later in training you can move on to your strength building exercises. Building on the previous snatch example, here’s a balanced training session focusing on both speed and strength:

  • Snatch balance – Perform 2 repetitions every minute for 10 minutes. Start with the barbell and work up to a moderate but challenging load.
  • Snatch from the high-hang position – 3 sets of 3 repetitions, rest as needed.
  • Tempo front squat – Hold the barbell for 3 seconds at top, take 3 seconds to descend into the hole, then squat up as fast as possible. Build to 5-RM, then take 5% off the bar for 1 set of 5. Remove another 5% and repeat once more.
  • Snatch pulls – Use 90% of your best lift for 5 sets of 3 reps. Rest 2 minutes between sets.

What about conditioning? 

Yes, you can maintain some conditioning while you work hard to increase the snatch, clean & jerk.

The key is to keep this work low intensity, and to choose movements without a heavy eccentric loading component. When you lengthen a muscle under load, like when you lower your body during squat, you will break down some muscle tissue. That can certainly have a negative impact on your weightlifting training. So, be very careful with supplementing your training with Crossfit WODs. A few hundred bodyweight squats or wall-ball shots is more than enough to wreck your legs for days and days.

You also want to be very careful with adding in running, precisely because there’s also a high eccentric load here, during each and every foot strike. Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with some biking, rowing, swimming, sled dragging, those are all great options.

A great aerobic workout for a weightlifter might look like this – Cycle through these movements at a comfortable pace for 30 minutes without stopping:

  • Row 500 meters.
  • Perform 3 Turkish get-ups per arm.
  • Hold a 60-second front plank.
  • Perform a 50 foot farmer’s carry. Kettlebells, dumbbells, use whatever is heavy and handy.

Questions?

I hope this post gives you some ideas on how to better consider and structure your weightlifting programming. If you have any questions, just leave them in the comments below. We’d love to help you get stronger.

Train hard, train smart,

Mike

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Mike Bledsoe

15 comments

  • Always been interested in trying weightlifting, I do the conventional squat/deadlift/bench and accessory workouts for a few years now, throwing in clean and jerk variations as well. The only problem I run into is that I tore my labrum in my left shoulder and had it repaired 3 years ago. Stability isn’t bad in it but full ROM on the snatch in particular is the most difficult part of the lift to overcome, and advice on exercises/stretches and on top of that added precautions I should take to avoid future injuries.

    • You will need to be very careful in the full snatch. It’s impossible to say just what you should do, or if you’re OK to full snatch. Have you had a pro get their hands on you and assess? …Someone performance focused?

  • I swear you guys on Barbell Shrugged are mind readers. I have been thinking about the challenge posed in this article constantly of late. I am starting with the Olympic lifts for the first time this week and want to build a proper training program for them. Many of the questions I have been pondering were addressed in this article (pause work, strength/conditioning balance, position specific training, supplemental work, etc.). Thanks for the timely article and keep up the amazing work. Nothing but mad respect for you guys and the show.

  • Always great content, I will love to implement this into my routine however I am confused and I am sure others are as well.

    How do we implement this? When? Whether we follow a program or just work out for fun.

    I guess what I am saying is how do we program for ourselves? How do we implement this into our weeks and planning?

    • The overall idea is to raise your awareness around a few key ideas. Not to provide detailed programming advice. So, in this case, are you currently training for strength? Is a goal to raise your performance on the snatch, clean & jerk. If it is, then you should be worried primarily with focusing your efforts around key positions. As an example of something you could easily apply now…Squats. You could do them regularly, which is fine. Or, for more focused effect, you could do high-bar squats with a pause in the very bottom. That would help you build leg and back strength, but it would also help you to get out of the bottom of your snatches and cleans easily as well. Hope that makes sense. Assess what you’re currently doing in the gym, and ask yourself if you have a focus on working the right positions, and with pause work. Finally, make sure that your conditioning is complimentary to your barbell work. Hope that helps some.

  • Great read. I’ve never been a fan of pause work. I just like to get down and grip it and rip it. However, after reading this I might revisit. You made a lot of sense Chris. Thanks.

  • I really enjoyed the example for the specific position for building the snatch. How about for the Ckean and Jerk? Can you do the same exercises with a clean grip?

  • I’d love to see Barbell Shrugged cover something other than the cult of CrossFit and Oly weightlifting. To my mind there are four modalities of training with weights; bodybuilding, weightlifting, powerlifting, and strongman. You have four presenters and four quarters in the year.. why doesn’t each presenter take on training in a modality that they haven’t in before for a quarter. Just think of all the interesting progress reports, the delving into the differences between the modalities and the demands they place on you, and the different histories…

    Or sure, carry on making much the same CrossFit & Oly film… again & again…

  • James,

    Thanks for you comment. We discuss mostly CrossFit and Olympic lifting a lot. In my opinion the categories you listed are all strength training outlets. We’ve discussed some but you’re right, not to extent. We plan to cover these more in the future. But I think it’ll be just as important to go into different styles of training such as endurance training, gymnastics, triathlon, etc. Which is totally different than any strength sport obviously.

  • […] Olympic lifting and building strength – Olympic lifting has gained tremendous … to start adding in some speed to your primary lifts, while you also keep balance by working your strength still. I like to program speed lifts early in my training sessions, when fatigue is minimal. […]

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