It’s no secret that Olympic weightlifting is a highly technical sport that requires a unique combination of strength, speed, and skill. Interestingly, though, we’re starting to see more and more higher level weightlifters who are absolutely jacked. This article is going to be all about hypertrophy for weightlifters, and how to incorporate it into a well-rounded training program. We’ll be covering:
- The Benefits of Hypertrophy for Weightlifters
- Finding the Balance Between Hypertrophy, Technique and Strength Training
- Sample Hypertrophy Accessory Exercises for Olympic Weightlifters
- Weightlifting Hypertrophy Program – A Quick Example
- Olympic lifting and bodybuilding program
- Bonus Tips for Incorporating Hypertrophy Training
- Hypertrophy for Weightlifters: A few Frequently Asked Questions
- Will hypertrophy training make me slower or less explosive?
- How often should I include hypertrophy training in my weightlifting program?
- Can hypertrophy training improve my weightlifting technique?
- Is hypertrophy training necessary for Olympic weightlifting success?
- How do I know if I’m overdoing it with hypertrophy training?
- Next Steps
The Benefits of Hypertrophy for Weightlifters
Hear me out, yes, Olympic weightlifting absolutely emphasizes strength, power and technique. With that said, over my years of coaching I’ve found that incorporating hypertrophy training can provide several benefits for weightlifters:
- Increased muscle size: And since larger muscles have a greater potential for producing force, this can translate to improved lifting performance.
- Enhanced work capacity: Hypertrophy training can increase your work capacity, allowing for more effective strength and technique sessions (More on this just below)
- Injury prevention: Developing balanced muscle groups can reduce the risk of injuries and promote overall joint health.
Real talk, as a pure weightlifter, a workout like 5×2 snatch followed by 5×5 squats used to take me ages, because I’d be gassed out needing ages to recover. But after bringing in some hypertrophy work, I can get through my sessions faster, and feel better and stronger whilst doing them.
Finding the Balance Between Hypertrophy, Technique and Strength Training
From experience, I can tell you that whilst hypertrophy is great for weightlifting, it’s also incredibly important to striking the right balance between hypertrophy, technique training and strength development. Here are some guidelines for integrating hypertrophy training strategically.
- Prioritize technique and strength: Don’t get me wrong, hypertrophy can absolutely contribute to improved performance, but only indirectly. Mastering the snatch and clean & jerk should remain your primary focus. That means ensuring that the majority of your training sessions revolve around these core lifts, or close variations such as hangs or powers.
- Target specific muscle groups: Instead of dedicating entire training sessions to hypertrophy, which doesn’t make much sense for a weightlifter, focus on specific muscle groups during accessory work. I’ll often have my lifters prioritize areas that will contribute to improved lifting performance, such as their quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and back muscles. Occassionally I might also recommend lots of overhead pressing and upper body work if someone’s jerk may benefit from adding general size and strength.
- Manage volume and intensity: If we draw on some of Dr Mike Israetel’s work, then the concepts of Maximum Recoverable Volume (MRV) and Minimum Effective Volume (MEV) can be especially handy when designing training programs. What this means is that you’ll monitor your recovery after sessions and adjust your training volume accordingly so that you sit between MEV and MRV. This should help you to avoid overtraining and promote optimal gains in hypertrophy.
- Periodize your training: With my more experienced athletes I utilise longer term periodisation as part of their training plans. If you fall into this bracket of lifter, then you might benefit from dividing your training year into distinct phases, such as hypertrophy, strength, and peaking. This structured approach can help you develop muscle mass during specific periods (i.e. away from competition) while still prioritizing technique and strength development at the right time.
Sample Hypertrophy Accessory Exercises for Olympic Weightlifters
I like to divide hypertrophy accessory exercises into tier lists based on specificity. For example:
Tier 1 (Most Specific) Hypertrophy Exercises for Weightlifters
These exercises very closely replicate the movement demands of the snatch, clean and jerk, and build the same muscle groups.
- Front Squats/Back Squats: Develop leg strength, especially in the quads
- Romanian Deadlifts: Strengthen the hamstrings and posterior chain for improved pulling power. Use these bad boys sparingly as the DOMS can be intense.
- Pendlay Rows: Target the upper back to enhance stability during the snatch and clean & jerk.
- Push Press: Improve shoulder strength, size and overhead stability for both the snatch and the jerk.
All of these exercises would be best performed in the 5-10 rep range for weightlifting specific hypertrophy. They’re highly specific and have great carryover, but they also create loads of fatigue.
Tier 2: Less Specific Hypertrophy Exercises for Weightlifters
These exercises still target relevant muscle groups, and will add size to key areas that over time will increase your performance potential. However, the movements themselves are less specific to the snatch and clean & jerk, so the carryover is less direct.
- Leg Press, Hack Squats, Lunges: Develop leg strength, especially in the quads
- Hamstring Curls: Strengthen your hamstrings
- Pull-ups, Dumbbell Rows: Target the upper back and lats.
- DB Overhead Presses: Increase shoulder strength and size
I tend to programme these exercises with anything from 8-15 reps, emphasising getting a quality pump in the muscle on each set. These exercises tend to cause less overall fatigue, so you might find you can get away with a few extra sets.
Weightlifting Hypertrophy Program – A Quick Example
Here’s a very simplified example of an off-season type weightlifting program. Each session starts with some classic weightlifting work, and is then followed by plenty of hypertrophy work targeting key muscles.
Hang Clean & Jerk: 5×2 @ 70-80%
Back Squat 3×5-10 @ 2 RIR
Push Press: 4×5-10 @ 2 RIR
Hang Snatch: 5×2 @ 70-80%
Leg Press: 4×10 @ RIR 2
Dumbbell Overhead Press: 4×12 @ RIR 2
Snatch: 5×1 @ 80-90%
Clean & Jerk: 5×1 @ 80-90%
Hamstring Curls: 4×10-15 @ RIR 2
Pull-Ups: 4×8-12 @ RIR 2
Olympic lifting and bodybuilding program
If putting together your own olympic lifting and hypertrophy program sounds like a hassle, then I’ve got you covered.
I’ve put together a 12 Week Weightlifting & Bodybuilding Programme to get you jacked whilst also increasing your numbers in the snatch and clean and jerk.
I’ll also throw in personal Q&A access, so if you’ve got any questions whilst running the programme, you can get them personally answered.
Bonus Tips for Incorporating Hypertrophy Training
- Nutrition: It never ceases to amaze me how many people aim to gain muscle but don’t eat in a calorie surplus. Adequate calories, protein intake, hydration, and sufficient sleep are all essential for supporting muscle growth and ensuring that you can recover effectively from both hypertrophy and technique-focused training sessions. If you neglect these you’ll just end up spinning your wheels.
- Tempo training: As a weightlifter you’re probably used to going fast, with a focus on completing reps rather than thinking about mind muscle connection. I highly recommend using some slow, controlled tempos during accessory exercises to really emphasize the hypertrophic stimulus. For example, using slow eccentrics and/or pauses at the bottom of each rep.
- Incorporate unilateral exercises: As weightlifters bilateral (2 legged) exercises form the overwhelming majority of our training. Unilateral exercises, such as single-leg squats or single-arm dumbbell presses, can help address muscle imbalances and improve stability. By incorporating these movements into your hypertrophy training, you can further enhance your overall weightlifting performance, reduce your risk of injury, and provide your body with a novel stimulus for muscle growth.
- Monitor progress and adjust as needed: My old coach Glenn Pendlay used to say that not using a training log was a sign of madness. I highly recommend that you track your progress by recording your lifts, hypertrophy work, and body composition changes. You can then regularly assess your performance and make adjustments to your training program as needed. This might include altering volume, intensity, or exercise selection to ensure that you’re making continuous progress and avoiding plateaus or overtraining.
Hypertrophy for Weightlifters: A few Frequently Asked Questions
Will hypertrophy training make me slower or less explosive?
No, hypertrophy training will only make you slower or less explosive if performed inappropriately, for example, using way too high rep ranges, or neglected the rest of your training. Incorporating hypertrophy training strategically whilst still maintaining a focus on technique and strength work will not hinder your performance.
How often should I include hypertrophy training in my weightlifting program?
How often you include hypertrophy training depends on your individual goals and the structure of your overall program. Generally, hypertrophy-focused accessory exercises can be included anything from 2-6 times per week, targeting specific muscle groups that support your weightlifting performance. Just remember to prioritize technique and strength work in your training sessions.
Can hypertrophy training improve my weightlifting technique?
Interestingly, whilst hypertrophy training will not directly improve weightlifting technique, it can indirectly contribute to improvements by strengthening the supporting muscle groups involved in the snatch and clean & jerk. Increased strength in these muscles can lead to greater stability and control during the lifts as well as better ability to hit key positions, which will likely positively impact your technique.
Is hypertrophy training necessary for Olympic weightlifting success?
Okay, so whilst hypertrophy training is not a strict requirement for success in Olympic weightlifting, it can provide several benefits, including an increased potential for strength, enhanced work capacity, and potentially injury prevention. It will also help you to fill out your weight class, making you more competitive.
How do I know if I’m overdoing it with hypertrophy training?
Signs that you may be overdoing it with hypertrophy training include decreased performance in your main lifts, persistent fatigue, difficulty recovering, and an increase in nagging injuries or joint pain. My biggest advice for you is to monitor your progress and recovery closely, and adjust your training volume and intensity accordingly to keep it between MEV and MRV.
1) Hopefully you’ve found the article useful, if you did, maybe take a moment to consider joining my mailing list for weekly programmes, workouts and weightlifting tips.
2) Feel free to share the article with anyone you think would benefit
‘Til Next Time
Alex Parry, MSc, BA
Alex is the Head content writer and Coach at Character Strength & Conditioning, as well as an Assistant Lecturer and PhD Researcher at the University of Hull.
His experience includes 7+ years within professional strength and conditioning, as well as working as a tutor & educator for British Weightlifting.