So in this blog we are going to try and explain how strength training for weightlifting should be approached compared to just training to be strong.
The main focus of strength training for Weightlifting is to improve force production (think a heavy squat) whilst maintaining a fast velocity (think a slow grindy squat vs a explosive fast rep). It would also have the aims of building up the back and shoulders whilst maintaining mobility and stability needed to perform the lifts successfully. All this whilst maintaining technique as no matter how strong we are, the technique is critical to making successful lifts. We can’t sacrifice speed and technique just for raw absolute strength that doesn’t translate to bigger lifts.
As an example, Squats are incredibly influential to the success of weightlifting. However if we have a 200kg Back Squat and it takes us 10-15 seconds to grind that rep out, that isn’t going to have much of a transference over to our Snatch and Clean & Jerk, which need to be fast and explosive to be successful (Explosive Strength). Equally if we have a 100kg clean and a 105kg front squat then it’s going to be hard to make progress with the clean and jerk (Absolute Strength).
So let’s break down each element for absolute strength for Olympic Weightlifting and help you make some gains shall we?!
So, whilst we are trying to improve our absolute strength we want to make it as relevant as possible to the main lifts of Olympic weightlifting, aka Snatch and Clean & Jerk. Again using back squats as an example, a lifter may be able to low bar back squat more using a Low bar approach which may mean more weight being lifted however this would hurt them in the long run towards improving on the Snatch down the line.
For the sake of Absolute strength in weightlifting we recommend some movements over others for most, but please note that doesn’t mean that others couldn’t be beneficial to some lifters.
Lower Body Strength for Weightlifting
Squatting should always be trained with the Snatch and Clean & Jerk in mind. Aka to full range of motion and with a controlled descent and and explosive ascent. The Squat stance should also be similar to the foot placement the lifter has in the catch portion of the lift. Again if you are a strong squatter in a narrow stance but you can’t or don’t receive the bar in that position when doing cleans then it’s useless strength to you.
Back Squats make up the primary leg training exercise for most weightlifting strength programs. These should always with the bar high on the back and maintain as much of an upright torso as possible and with technique that allows full use of the leg muscles.
Front Squats are the most specific exercise for developing strength for the clean and jerk. They are well suited for medium and low reps but not the best for high rep sets for hypertrophy. This is due to the issues with breathing and then therefore the loss in posture which becomes its own limiting factor. If you want to use Front Squats for hypertrophic means then you’re better off overloading in sets rather than reps here.
Other squat variations
Other variations of Squats can greatly help strengthen a lifter to perform better at the snatch and clean. This could be using the lifts above in tempos and pauses to strengthen certain positions. It could also be some movements to help a lifter attack a specific lower weakness.
Things like cyclist squats to attack more specific areas or imbalances from left to right leg with stuff like lunges or other single leg work.
Although these are useful and should be used where applicable it shouldn’t be the main lower leg strength element as it doesn’t have the same transfer as the Back/Front Squat does.
Upper Body Strength for Weightlifting
As far as I’m concerned upper body exercises are critical for the development of the lifts but more importantly to protect the lifter at the shoulder, elbow and wrist. Upper body strength is vital to help the stabilisation of the lifts but also in the turn over phases of the bar in the lifts. This all means more weights being lifted and fewer injuries which in turn also means more training time! Huzzah!
Primary Lifts (Dynamic)
The Push Press helps upper body strength in relation to the Oly lifts but also helps train and improve the drive phase of the jerk. It also helps with general coordination of legs and arms with the timing of the movement.
Snatch Grip Push Presses
Snatch Grip Push Presses have a much lower transference to the classic lifts but they develop strength in the receiving positions of the snatch incredibly well.
Other Upper body exercises (Static)
The Seated Press has great transference of pressing strength and an ability to create vertical force which would help drive and stabilise Jerks. Seated over standing just due to the nature of being able to focus more on the pressing action and shoulder strength rather than letting other body movements and hip shifts etc impact the bar upwards.
Overhead Squat (OHS):
The OHS is the primary strength developer for the upper body in the snatch position. However, strength in the overhead squat is not directly correlated to results in the snatch, since getting the barbell over-head in the first place is the hardest part of the snatch
Pulling Strength for Weightlifting
Now, pulling strength is a little bonus I’m throwing in as it can have a great effect on the strength portions of the lifts but it also one of the ones to easily get wrong. This is due to a number of factors but the main things to be conscious of are:
1. It can have a effect on the technique of the main lifts
2. if done too much at heavy loads can have a big impact of fatigue across a week or training month which would therefore impact all other lifts too much resulting on the rest of the training aims.
When performing snatch and clean pulls, do your best to be in the same positions as you would for the snatch and the clean. As the weights get heavier, avoid changing your start position or rounding your back
If the goal is to develop strength through the use of pulls, then the general trend in loading should be skewed toward the higher side of the intensity scale relative to the classic lifts. Low intensity pulls (between 85%-95%) will not have a significant impact on strength qualities, and should only make up a small portion of your training. Most pulls should be done with 100% or more of your 1RM.Pulls with varying intensity have different effects on the lifter’s strength and technique. Using heavy weights will develop more strength but will also distort the technique of the exercise. Using lighter weights will preserve or even develop technical skills, but they do not develop much strength
The primary goal of strength development in weightlifting is to improve force production as much as possible while maintaining their ability to apply that force with significant velocity. If we only trained to be ”Strong” producing at the expense of all other training qualities, then they would basically just be powerlifters. Conversely, if we do not try to improve an athlete’s ability to produce force we would have a useless lifter.
While strength is tremendously important for Weightlifting, it must be strategically developed in order to avoid sacrificing speed or technical qualities.
We will deep dive next time on how we can approach technique training and portions of the lifts to maximise and improve on the full lifts of the snatch and clean. These methods can also be used during a strength phase to maintain technique of the lifts.
In the mean time if you’ve got any questions then fire them our way!
Head Coach Milo