At the end of the day, olympic weightlifting is fundamentally a strength sport. As much as it might hurt to hear, nobody cares how beautifully you can clean 50kg.
In this article we’re going to be diving deep into strength training for weightlifting, providing you with a comprehensive guide to getting as strong as possible with as much carryover as possible. We’ll be covering…
- How Can I Increase my Strength in Weightlifting?
- What Exercises do Olympic Weightlifters Do For Strength?
- The Role of Strength in Weightlifting
- Strength Training for Weightlifting – The Westside Barbell Approach
- The Best Olympic Lifting Strength Program
- 3 Day Per Week Strength Training for Weightlifting Program
- Frequently Asked Questions About Strength Training for Weightlifting
- Next Steps
How Can I Increase my Strength in Weightlifting?
Strength, put simply, is the maximum amount of force a muscle or group of muscles can express. In olympic weightlifting, our main goals are to increase force production in our legs and back, as well as our shoulders.
The problem is that the snatch, clean and jerk on their own just won’t quite do the trick, because…
A) They’re (relatively) too light, so they don’t put enough tension through your muscles
B) They’re too fast, so they don’t put tension through your muscles for very long
C) They have no eccentric (muscle lengthening) component, so they miss out 50% of the strength development potential of an exercise.
So, we have to solve this problem by adding heavier, slower and eccentrically loaded exercises into our weightlifting training programs in order to build strength.
What Exercises do Olympic Weightlifters Do For Strength?
Leg Strength for Olympic Weightlifting (Pushing)
- Back Squat
- Front Squat
- Pause and Tempo Versions of the above
Leg and Back Strength for Weightlifting (Pulling)
- Clean Deadlift
- Snatch Deadlift
- RDL (Romanian Deadlift)
- Snatch Grip RDL
Shoulder Strength for Weightlifting (Overhead)
- Strict Press
- Press in Split Position
- Behind the Neck Press
The Role of Strength in Weightlifting
I’ve attached written another in-depth article on the role of strength in weightlifting. But here’s the TLDR…
“Maximal strength in weightlifting is incredibly important, to maximise carryover we also have to develop speed strength, positional strength and technical qualities”
What does this mean in practice?
It means that just because you can squat and deadlift 250kg doesn’t mean that you can magically clean 200kg. There are more pieces to the puzzle.
Bridging the Gap to Speed Strength Training for Weightlifting
If you’ve never heard of it before, there’s a concept called the force-velocity curve. Exercises like maximal squats are on the force end of the curve, whilst exercises like vertical jumps and sprints are at the velocity end.
Snatches and cleans sit sort of in between these two extremes, they’re a hybrid ‘speed-strength exercise.’
This is why squats, deadlifts and presses don’t perfectly transfer.
So good weightlifting coaches will have their athletes use ‘strength bridging’ exercises to improve the carryover of maximal strength into speed strength.
Bridging Strength Exercises for Weightlifting
- Clean Pulls
- Snatch Pulls
- Clean High Pulls
- Snatch High Pulls
- Push Press
- Behind the Neck Push Press
- Squats at Moderate Loads Performed for Bar Speed
Positional Strength for Olympic Weightlifting
Good weightlifting coaches will also be able to help you identify positional weaknesses. To be honest you might even be aware of them yourself if you’re a switched-on lifter who pays attention to their own body.
They can then assign position strength exercises to address these weaknesses. Two examples include…
- Tempo Overhead Squats: To address unstable or weak snatch receive positions and recoveries.
- Tempo Front Squats: To address unstable or weak clean receive positions and recoveries.
Strength Training for Weightlifting – The Westside Barbell Approach
Since I get asked about this surprisingly often, I want to quickly address Louie Simmon’s thoughts on strength training for weightlifting, which are essentially an attempt to apply the westside barbell dynamic effort – max-effort approach to olympic weightlifting.
1) Having a dynamic effort day as part of a weightlifting strength program is just silly, because every weightlifting movement is already a dynamic effort.
2) Cycling through exercise variations on a weekly basis doesn’t allow for great carryover to weightlifting results.
3) If any of Louie’s methods were optimal for weightlifting strength development, other coaches would be using them, but they’re not. We’d also expect to see Louie producing world-class, or at least national class weightlifters, but he has never done so.
Whilst I respect Louie’s knowledge of equipped powerlifting, he’s evidently pretty out of touch with when it comes to weightlifting coaching and programming.
The Best Olympic Lifting Strength Program
Okay then, so what programme should I actually follow to develop strength for weightlifting?
Well, your programme needs 3 things…
1) Maximal strength exercises
2) Speed strength ‘bridging’ exercises
3) Positional strength exercises
There are a bunch of ways that this can be accomplished, and the ‘best’ programme for you is going to depend on your own specific strengths and weaknesses.
However, I want to give you an example so you can see what this might look like when put together.
3 Day Per Week Strength Training for Weightlifting Program
Want a Weightlifting Programme Custom Built For Your Needs?
Learning all about strength training for weightlifting is great, but if putting it all together into a programme yourself seems like a bit of a hassle, then I’ve got you covered.
I’ve put together a custom programme writing option, where you can ask me to build you a training programme from scratch, specifically for your needs.
I’ll also combine this with a monthly check-in so that you can review progress, ask questions and provide feedback. You can learn more about custom programming here.
Frequently Asked Questions About Strength Training for Weightlifting
How can I increase my snatch strength?
A good combination of exercises would be snatch deadlifts and back squats for general strength, snatch pulls for speed-strength bridging, and overhead squats for positional strength.
How often do Olympic weightlifters train?
It depends on your goals. I would suggest 3 days per week as a minimum, up to 5 days per week as a maximum for recreational lifters. If you’re a professional or elite lifter, I recommend anything from 6-9 sessions per week.
Are Olympic lifters stronger than powerlifters?
This is sort of like comparing apples and oranges. All lifters are best at what they train regularly. So powerlifters are stronger at squat, bench and deadlift, whilst weightlifters are stronger at the snatch and clean & jerk. If you’ve ever seen a powerlifter try to snatch or a weightlifter try to bench press you’ll know exactly what I mean!
That’s it for today…
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
Alex’s experience includes 7+ years within professional strength and conditioning, as well as working as a tutor & educator for British Weightlifting.