Does General Strength help with Olympic Weightlifting?

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Does General Strength help with Olympic Weightlifting?

Pyrros jacked

This is a debate that baffles me. In America, this debate happens all too often, when the answer seems obvious. I am the first to agree that technique is important. I have watched Don McCauley add several kilos to lifters with technique alone, but there comes a time to get jacked. Point blank jacked! When you start looking at our international rivals, those guys and gals are strong. The ones that I follow the most Lu, Ilya, and the great Dimas all had excess amounts of absolute strength. Dimas is reported to have had a 330k/726lb Back Squat. His three Gold Medals prove that having excess strength in the back squat didn’t hurt his performance.

Lu Jacked

After your first 4 to 5 years of technique work, it’s time to get strong. Those are the words that I heard come out of the mouth of Klokov, and it seems to have worked well for him. Now I am talking about 4 to 5 years of technique work from a legit Olympic weightlifting coach. If your form is all jacked up, then you will need to take a few steps back and correct that.

Now even though that I don’t agree with everything that Louie Simmons thinks about the sport of weightlifting, I agree that a little more focus on strength needs to happen. General strength is a broad term hence the word “general”. What areas of General Strength should a weightlifter focus on?

The first place that I am going to look is the Front Squat vs. the Clean & Jerk. Does the athlete Clean & Jerk 90%+ of their Front Squat? If so, then I am going to get their squat strong because that is an efficient lifter. There is not a lot of reason to Clean the heck out of them because they are going to reach a limit of what they can actually stand up with, and that is pointless.

Another important area to look at is the Back Squat vs. Clean Deadlift. In theory the lifter should be able to Clean Deadlift the same amount that they can back squat or a little more. If not, it’s time to target the pull. It’s a constant chess match to keep these two equal. Team Mash Mafia has lifters that seem to be deadlifting, and then somehow they seem to sneak under the bar. An improvement in the pull will undoubtedly transfer to a better Snatch and Clean. If Force=M*A, then obviously increasing acceleration will produce more force on the bar.

Lu Squat

Ethan Harak, told me a year ago that his first 200K/440lb Clean & Jerks and 160k/352lb Snatches were directly from Coach McCauley programming more pulls. We spoke via email, and he was amazed at the results. At the time he was only performing light paused Front Squats once per week, and he was still able to snatch and clean & jerk more than ever. Wow!

There are other areas that are commonly weak on weightlifters, or that need extra work. The posterior chain is of course important for anything explosive. The gluteus maximus isn’t the biggest muscle in the body because it is the weakest. Have you ever met someone with a flat butt that can jump, run fast, or clean 400 pounds? Probably not! Most great weightlifters have monstrous glutes? They look like gorillas.

There are so many great posterior chain exercises to choose from. I will list some of my favorites:

• RDLS are very important for Olympic weightlifters. This motion works the hamstrings and back with the hamstrings in a lengthened state the entire time. This exercise will build pulling power, and add muscle like crazy in the hamstrings, glutes, and back. I like to use this exercise unilaterally as well for hip health. This will allow each side of the pelvis to work independently of the other.
• Goodmornings are personally my favorite. Goodmornings add more tension in the torso region of the posterior chain, which was where I lacked early in my lifting career. I like to use multiple bars like the safety squat bar, cambered bar, and buffalo bar. I have a longer torso, so this exercise really helped my stability in the catch phase.
• GHDs are a staple in any of my programs. This is the only exercise that I know of that works the hamstrings as they cross the knees and the hips. They also work the hamstrings in a shortened manner, which is a little different than the RDLS or Goodmornings.
• Reverse Hypers are simply awesome for the posterior chain and spinal health in general.
• 45 Degree Hypers are a favorite of Coach Pendlay’s for building strength in the erectors, hamstrings, and glutes.

Besides posterior chain, lifters could always use strength in the shoulder girdle region especially women lifters. Women are naturally stronger in their lower bodies than their upper. They can quickly leave their upper bodies lagging in strength. Personally I think they need upper body work to get jacked and intimidate the competition. Sarah Carter of Team Mash Elite is pretty dang scary. Besides that, they need upper body strength for stabilizing the weight overhead.

Here are some great upper body exercises to stabilize overhead:

• Push Presses are great for the drive phase in the jerk, and for upper body strength.
• Pull-ups and Upright Row are great together.
• Dips are great to build the triceps, delts, and pecs. You will find several videos of Lu Xiaojun completing multiple sets of weighted dips. If he does it, then it has to be good.
• Pendlay Row, Kettlebell Batwing Rows, and Chest Supported Rows are all great variations to aid with scapula stabilization.
• Plate lateral raises are a movement that I added in because once again, Lu does them. They are also great for building cannon ball delts.

All of these exercises are great for building muscle mass and strengthening the overhead position. However, lately a lot of my athletes have had amazing results with Isometric work. Isometric is a fancy word for telling us that it is a movement where the length of the muscle doesn’t change. Several studies on isometric contractions reference results demonstrating increased fiber recruitment in the joints that are taking place in the stabilizing process. I have watched this type of work help with stability overhead and overall Core Stability. Here are some of the exercises that we recommend:

• Axle Bar Overhead Carries are great for stabilizing jerks and the catch phase of the snatch.
• DB Fat Grip Unilateral Overhead Walks
• Farmer Walks both bilaterally and unilaterally. The unilateral walks are crazy hard, and they will light up your glutes and obliques.

Once the athlete is past their three-year mark, that’s a good time to add in some extra work. I agree with Coach Pendlay that the first three years should be Snatch, Clean & Jerk, and Squats mainly. When they become more efficient, then more of this should be added in.

Even with our advanced athletes, this is the way it goes during a 12-week competition phase:

• Weeks 1-4 Mainly strength work and targeting weaknesses with the lifts secondary
• Weeks 5-8 Half strength work and half focus of the lifts
• Weeks 9-12 This is go time, and a focus on Snatch and Clean & Jerk are a must.

I hope that his article helps with the way that you might arrange your programming. Ask yourself, what am I weak at? What am I good at? Then handle your business.

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  1. says

    Got to agree here. For a long time, I have followed the Bonderchuk model of exercises when programming for olympic weightlifters, putting more correlation value to exercises more similar to the lifts than ones that are not. However, this does not lessen the value of many, many exercises for purely strengthening the body. Call it GPP or “farm strength”, this is something that has to be paid attention to in preparing anyone’s core to be strong enough to perform the olympic lifts and and be able to withstand the pressure on the body of this ultimate test of gymnastic, overhead task. Technique will always be king in any sport and pulls, squats and deads will always be major checkpoints in any lifters exercise list but many more have to be done to ready the lifter for maximum effort and continued improvement.

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