Category Archives: Olympic Lifts

The Lazy Man’s Guide to Olympic Weightlifting

The Lazy Man's Guide

The Lazy Man’s Guide
People like the bare minimum. Instinctively we want to know what’s the least we 

can do to get a result.  Yes there are some that would say “if one ibuprofen is good, then 10 must be better” but those are the same people that end up with liver problems.  It could be laziness, but it’s more than likely intelligence.
Training is no different, we should strive for the minimum effective dose, when delivering it to our athletes or to ourselves. Becoming great at a skill like Olympic weightlifting is a different beast, but for most that is not an issue until after we have tried out the minimum effective dose.
This is the bare minimum Olympic weightlifting program you should be doing to be a good Olympic lifter.

Combos to start

Start here. Use combos to get used to real Olympic weightlifting. Combos ease the transition to the full lift.
For the clean use a power clean + front squat and a jerk (power or split depending on your comfort). Get used to pulling under the bar and catching at a lower height to move to the full clean.
For the snatch do a similar movement, power snatch + overhead squat. Start pulling under the bar and eliminating the pause before going into an overhead squat.

The Real Thing (or a variation)

To be effective at the Olympic lifts you have to use the real movement. Even if you have every intention of power cleaning for the rest of your life, take some time to get good at catching in the deep squat position.
Once you are comfortable at the real movement, choose a variation that is the right one for you, or your athletes. This means one that will get your athletes the greatest benefit, or yield the biggest returns for yourself.
For most field sport athletes: use the hang power clean
For sprinters in track: use the power clean
For tall athletes: Use a dead start on the blocks
For times where hypertrophy is needed: Use the full movement to grow some massive quads.
I recommend some time spent doing the full movement because the full movement is the purest expression of technique. You can’t do the full movement while catching the bar in the starfish position, you can’t do the full movement without great mobility.
These technical details will then carry over to whatever variation you choose for your main movement.

LOTS of squatting

A wise man once said “squatting helps everything.” Since I am referring to this man as wise, lets go ahead and assume that I agree with him.
It’s true. If you want to be better at the Olympic lifts squatting is the life blood of champions.
The crazy thing is, even if you aren’t doing the full lifts (floor start, A2G catch), squatting still helps. One of my elite pole vaulter’s does the hang clean exclusively but she was missing all of her lifts at the receiving position. Slightly forward catch and dumping the weight anytime she got heavy.
The solution was simple she had to squat more. After adding 20k to her front squat, and with no technical changes to her clean, she made every clean she attempted.
I do have some bad news for you. You have to be able to squat deep for their to be carry over. Power lifting squats just don’t work for Olympic lifting improvement. Olympic lifting squats need to be front squats or high bar, narrow stance back squats.
Like these (this is Clarence Kennedy a European Jr. lifter, he’s good)

Some pulls

Plenty of people argue against pulls as part of the training program. The typical objection is that they teach people to extend up too much rather than move under the bar (I am in favor of them, they are my plateau busters).
Pulls shouldn’t make up all of your program, but including them periodically will go a long way to making your O lifts improve.
Remember the snatch grip deadlift and clean grip deadlift are pulls as well, just approach the lift like you are moving the bar from the ground for an O lift and not a normal deadlift (Like this).

The Lazy Olympic Weightlifting Program

The bare minimum Olympic weightlifting program could look as simple as what is below.
Two movements per day.
This is designed to be something that you could do while also doing all the curls, bench press, and leg presses you want.
Week 1: Day 1
Exercise  Set Reps
Power Snatch + OH Squat 4 (1+1)x3
Front Squat 4 4
Week 1: Day 2
Exercise  Set Reps
Power Clean + Front Squat+Jerk 4 (1+1+1)x3
Clean Deadlift 4 4
Week 2: Day 1
Exercise  Set Reps
Power Snatch + OH Squat 5 (1+1)x2
Back Squat 5 4
Week 2: Day 2
Exercise  Set Reps
Power Clean + Front Squat + Jerk 5 (1+1+1)x2
Snatch Pull (or from deficit) 5 3
Week 3: Day 1
Exercise  Set Reps
Snatch 4 3
Front Squat 4 3
Week 3: Day 2
Exercise  Set Reps
Clean and Jerk 4 3+2 (1+1 style)
Back Squat 4 3
Week 4: Day 1
Exercise  Set Reps
Snatch 5 2
Snatch Deadlift (or from Deficit) 5 3
Week 4: Day 2
Exercise  Set Reps
Clean and Jerk 4 2+1 (1+1 style)
Front Squat 4 2
*On combos (including clean and jerk) the first number is for the first movement, the second number is for the second movement.
**Loading should be done with the greatest amount of weight that one can handle for each prescribed set.
***This program can be repeated, replacing the combos to start the training program with full movements or your chosen variation


Getting better with the Olympic lifts does not mean that one has to spend hours upon hours on the platform (becoming GREAT does). Rather, focused attention to the craft and the movements that assist the craft the most.

Olympic Lift Variations to Get Big

by Wil Fleming – 3/19/2013
Olympic Lift Variations to Get BigSneak into any Russian training hall, Chinese sports school, or Bulgarian weightlifting Mecca and you’ll see dozens of guys with traps popping out of their T-shirts, backs as wide as freeways, and quads that would make the Incredible Hulk turn another shade greener.
These world-class weightlifters may possess the powerful physiques we all want, yet they aren’t following the typical models when it comes to putting on muscle mass.
It’s not Hypertrophy Training For Dummies that they’re using – you won’t find these guys maxing out reps on the dumbbell shrug, leg extension, or leg curl machine. Instead, you’ll see power cleans, snatches, deadlift variations, and several other killers that both stretch the seams of your shorts and scare your momma.
However, were I to peruse college textbooks or ask successful bodybuilder at the gym how to get ripped and get huge, it would be unlikely that the Olympic lifts would come up in any way, shape, or form.
It’s because they’re seemingly diametrically opposed endeavors, as the main thing it takes to put on muscle mass, high reps, is the kryptonite of Olympic lifting.
So what gives? My eyes tell me that Olympic lifting can make people jacked, but the textbooks and empirical evidence tell me that Olympic lifting and putting on size don’t mix.

Hypertrophy Basics

If you’re on this site you know how to get bigger. It’s no secret, putting on size means some serious time under the bar, but let’s review some hypertrophy basics.
The main objective in training for hypertrophy is maximal protein catabolism. In so doing, one should stimulate maximal synthesis of muscle protein in the recovery phase. Break down more muscle through your workouts and gain more muscle through your recovery.
Protein catabolism is greatest when the repetitions per set number 5-12, and the recovery between sets is 1-2 minutes. Training sessions for hypertrophy typically focus on a particular muscle group rather than a particular pattern of movement.
However, compare the above with Olympic lifting and you’ll see more differences than while comparingRambo to The Notebook.
There’s absolutely nothing similar about training protocols for Olympic lifting and hypertrophy. Hypertrophy calls for high reps, Olympic lifting calls for low reps. Hypertrophy calls for minimal rest, Olympic lifting for maximal rest.

Variable Hypertrophy Normal O Lifting
Intent Activate and exhaust working muscles Recruit maximal motor units
Reps 5-7 to 10-12 1-3
Rest Intervals 1-2 minutes/set 3-5 minutes/set
Volume Large Small
Weight Used Maximal or sub-maximal Maximal or sub-maximal

So what gives? Training for hypertrophy and using Olympic lifting are like oil and water, but there obviously must be some way to get jacked and use Olympic lifting.

Using Olympic Lifting for Hypertrophy

Olympic Lift Variations to Get BigThere’s one common problem that we must overcome to make Olympic lifting useful for hypertrophy.
Hypertrophy requires volume, and big increases in volume result in huge changes muscle size.
But this runs contrary to what most Olympic lifters typically do, as an Olympic lifting program for even a national level lifter rarely exceeds 200-300 reps per week.
Contrast this with the typical “3 sets of 10 reps” hypertrophy workout we often see recommended in beginner bodybuilding articles – applying that to just a total of 10 exercises per week would yield more reps than most serious Olympic lifters do in a week.
Now this doesn’t mean that sets of 3 reps are now sets of 10 and 12 reps. That won’t work with the Olympic lifts (I’ll explain why later). We sneak in volume by using combo movements to double or triple the volume of an exercise.

Heavy Combos

Combos are multiple movements completed 1 repetition at a time, or 1+1+1 until completion. This is in contrast to a complex where movements are completed in their entirety until completion.
Two examples of a heavy combo are below. The first is a clean combo of deadlift, full clean, and front squat.
In the video I complete it for 1 repetition each. The key here is that I chose a weight (125 kilos) that would be challenging had I done it for only 1 repetition of the full clean, as it’s about 85% of my current 1RM.
In a typical Olympic lifting program, doing singles at 85% of your 1RM is not uncommon, but by using a combo I was able to sneak 2 extra reps in to my weekly volume.

The second combo is a snatch combo of snatch deadlift, snatch high pull, and power snatch.
In the video I complete the movement for 1+1+1 x2, making the total reps completed in the set fall right in the middle of the number of reps one should be doing for hypertrophy (6 reps).

Heavy combos used for hypertrophy should be done with 2-4 combined movements done one rep at a time. Make sure that when doing them the total reps completed within any given set doesn’t exceed 10.

The Klokov Combo

The rules of combos go out the window with this one exception, the Klokov combo.
The Klokov combo is named after Russian lifter, Dmitry Klokov. This combo features 5 movements in sequence completed for 1 repetition each: deadlift, full clean, front squat, push press, and split jerk.
If combos are named after animals (i.e., the bear), this one should be named the shark-tiger-bear. Try completing this combo with 80-85% of your 1RM.

Klokov has famously completed this exact complex with 205 kilos on the bar. The bar has been set!

5+5 Regression Complexes

While I’m trying to be all sneaky about adding extra reps into Olympic lifts to train for hypertrophy, I’m certain some are thinking, “Wait, why don’t I just do sets of 8-12 reps on the clean?”
The answer is simple: high rep Olympic lifts are terrible for you. Consult any textbook and you’ll find that Olympic lifts are never prescribed for more than 5 repetitions…ever. Consult any successful coach and they’ll tell you that 90% of all sets should be done at 3 reps or below. See, no matter where you turn, it just isn’t a good idea.
The problem with high rep Olympic lifts is that no matter how good the technician is at the movements, their form will ultimately break down as the set goes on.
The regression complex is a perfect remedy for this problem.
The concept is simple. Take a complex movement and at the precise moment that form typically breaks down, regress to a similar movement that requires less technical efficiency.
Here’s a video of me doing a regression complex of power snatches and snatch grip Romanian deadlifts for 5 reps of each. It’s another sneaky way to add repetitions to your Olympic lift training program and get huge in the process.

A second example is to use the power clean and deadlift in a 3+3 complex. While 110 kilos isn’t typically a challenging weight on the deadlift, it’s an entirely different story after knocking out several cleans and clean pulls first.

How to Use Them

So how do you use these? Should you just throw some extra reps at your workout and hope for some gains?
No, use the 3-week training program below to quickly develop mountainous traps, aircraft carrier lats, and giant quads. You’ve got my word on it.

Week 1

Workout 1

Exercise Sets Reps
A Snatch Combo: Snatch Deadlift, Snatch High Pull, Power Snatch 4 1+1+1×2
B Back Squat 4 5
C Push Press 4 5
D Abs 3 X

Workout 2

Exercise Sets Reps
A Clean Regression Complex 4 5+5
B Clean Pull 4 4
C Dumbbell Row 2 12
D Turkish Get-Up 3 2 each

Workout 3

Exercise Sets Reps
A Snatch Regression Complex 4 5+5
B Front Squat 4 5
C Split Jerk 4 3
D Abs 3 X

Workout 4

Exercise Sets Reps
A Klokov Combo 4 1+1+1+1+1
B Back Squat 4 5
C Pull-Up 4 10
D Turkish Get-Up 3 2 each

Week 2

Workout 1

Exercise Sets Reps
A Snatch Combo: Snatch Deadlift, Snatch High Pull, Power Snatch 4 1+1+2×2
B Back Squat 4 6
C Push Press 4 5
D Abs 3 X

Workout 2

Exercise Sets Reps
A Clean Regression Complex 4 5+5
B Clean Deadlift 4 5
C Dumbbell Row 2 12
D Turkish Get-Up 3 2 each

Workout 3

Exercise Sets Reps
A Snatch Regression Combo 4 5+5
B Front Squat 4 6
C Split Jerk 4 3
D Abs 3 X

Workout 4

Exercise Sets Reps
A Klokov Combo 4 1+1+2+1+1
B Back Squat 4 6
C Pull-Up 4 10
D Turkish Get-Up 3 2 each

Week 3

Workout 1

Exercise Sets Reps
A Snatch Combo: Snatch Deadlift, Snatch High Pull, Power Snatch 4 2+1+2×2
B Back Squat (10% higher than week 1) 4 5
C Push Press 4 5
D Abs 3 X

Workout 2

Exercise Sets Reps
A Klokov Complex 5 1+1+1+1+1
B Clean Deadlift 4 5
C Dumbbell Row 2 12
D Turkish Get-Up 3 2 each

Workout 3

Exercise Sets Reps
A Snatch Regression Combo 4 5+5
B Snatch High Pull 4 5
C Split Jerk 4 3
D Abs 3 X

Workout 4

Exercise Sets Reps
A Clean Combo: Deadlift, Full Clean, Front Squat 4 2+2+2
B Back Squat 4 6
C Pull-Up 4 10
D Turkish Get-Up 3 2 each


While hypertrophy isn’t normally the province of Olympic lifting, here’s your opportunity to get creative like a weightroom Picasso and implement some sneaky strategies to gain massive size from the O lifts.

Hitting Bottom: 3 Tools to Perfect Your Olympic Lifts

One of the major problems with teaching the technique of the Olympic lifts is that newcomers often are not comfortable and/or familiar with the bottom position before they ever attempt to learn the movements. I’ve always felt that learning to achieve a certain position or result was best accomplished if there was familiarity with the goal of the movement. For most people just learning the Olympic lifts, the overhead squat, front squat, and split jerk positions are neither familiar nor necessarily comfortable. 
Squat Snatch Press
bob takano, weightlifting, takano athletics, olympic lifting, squat snatch pressI begin by teaching the squat snatch press, a movement in which the athlete assumes a full back squat bottom position while taking a snatch width grip with the bar resting on the shoulders behind the neck. The movement then commences with the athlete pressing the bar overhead while remaining in the full bottom position. The exercise has been mistakenly called the Sots press when in actuality a Sots press is performed with the bar in front of the neck with the hands in a clean width grip. 
The squat snatch press is a fabulous exercise for familiarizing the athlete with the bottom position of the squat snatch, while simultaneously improving mobility in all the relevant joints. The most difficult problem for many people is learning how to fire the rhomboids in order to stabilize the scapulae, so the shoulders have a proper platform from which to exert force upon the bar. 
Front Squat
bob takano, weightlifting, takano athletics, olympic lifting, front squat, cleanThe best movement for learning the squat clean bottom position is the traditional front squat. This movement performed with an optimal amount of weight will force the body into the bottom position, while simultaneously stretching the tendons and ligaments involved in achieving the position. At this point the front squat is not a strengthening exercise, but a positioning and stretching exercise. The hands are not gripping the bar, but rather cradling it to keep it resting on the shoulders.
Overhead Lunges
bob takano, weightlifting, olympic lifting, jerk, split jerk, lungeThe split jerk is best learned by performing overhead lunges. The weight is supported overhead with the hands taking a clean width grip. The athlete then steps forward with the preferred leg into a lunge position and lowers the hips until the thigh of the front leg is parallel with the floor. The athlete then recovers to the starting position. This movement, like the previous two, is to acquaint the athlete with the bottom position before any attempt is made to assume the position at the end of an explosive movement. 
Once these positions become comfortable for the neophyte lifter, the technique training can then commence to the process of learning how to get the barbell to these positions.

Olympic Lifting Made Simple

Olympic Lifting Made Simple
Having started my life in the iron game as an Olympic lifter, I’ve always been influenced by the training done by the most explosive athletes in the world.
The Olympic lifts have a rhythm to them like no other. After a big fast pull, the weight rockets up high overhead before slamming back down to the ground. It’s physical poetry in motion.
Even as a teenager and just learning about lifting, I knew that the Olympic lifts were for me. Big weights? I’m interested. Fast? Sounds like something my type II muscle fibers can get down with. Slam it to the ground at the end? Where do I sign up?
So at the ripe old age of 15 and just two weeks into my training, I sat down and planned it all out. Soon, through the simplicity of the overload principle, I would have the world beat. By only adding 1 kilogram to each lift (the snatch and the clean and jerk) every week, I would have the world record in the snatch in only 2 years and the world record in the clean and jerk in 2.5 years.
Well, you might’ve noticed that my bio fails to list world records in either the snatch or the clean and jerk. The reason? The simple overload principle fails to deliver indefinitely as gains don’t always come on a weekly basis. Gains do come, however, with improvement in your movements and improvements in strength.
Recently, I decided to return to the competitive platform for the first time in over 10 years. I needed a program that would drill my movement patterns, but also help me get strong at both the snatch and the clean and jerk.
So I put together the following program and have used it on myself and five other lifters that were all training for their very first meets.
We all PR’d – me at a bodyweight that was 30 pounds lighter than the last time I lifted competitively. This program is simple, to the point, and ready to use.

Getting Off On The Right Foot

Olympic Lifting Made Simple
Before you start, I strongly encourage you to hire a good lifting coach to evaluate your movements. You don’t want to be wasting energy off the floor or in the second pull – a good coach can quickly identify this and help correct it.
That said, the Olympic lifts aren’t difficult to learn – I can teach a group of athletes how to Olympic lift in just a couple sessions. What I’m talking about is becoming good at the Olympic lifts, as opposed to that meathead in the gym who reverse curls the weight to his chest and then muscles it overhead.
Your typical reverse curler may have the muscle mass and power to Olympic lift, but it takes more than 3 sets of 3 once a week to be legitimately good at the lifts. The Olympic lifts respond to efficient patterns just as well as they respond to big ass traps and huge quads.
The ideology at work here mirrors that of legendary Soviet weighlifting coach AS Medvedev. In his book,A Program of Multi-Year Training in Weightlifting, Medvedev outlines every lift used over the course of six years to take a weightlifter from novice to elite level. Much of the first two years is done with imitation lifts, no more than 50% of bodyweight, with technical efficiency as the only goal.
I’m not going to make you spend two years or even 20 weeks working with a bar, but this program is based on the idea of movement efficiency and developing technical patterns to improve at the lifts.

The Program

The program is as simple as it gets, 4 lifts per day with 1 complex before training. That’s it. The program only has the lifts you need to be doing to get better at the Olympic lifts.
All of my athletes still do core work and corrective work, and I’m certain you’ll need it, too. Throw this stuff in at the end or beginning of your training session, but don’t overdo it.

Imitation Complex

Olympic Lifting Made Simple
Each day you’ll begin with an “imitation complex,” during which you’ll only think about complete technical efficiency. No wasted thoughts of a “big pull” or worries about whether you can come up with the front squat or overhead squat.
In these complexes your goal should be to imitate the best lift you can picture in your head. You should use just the bar for at least one set and then go up to a maximum of 50% of bodyweight for any additional sets, so for a 200-pound guy that would be 100 pounds, max.
Remember, this isn’t about getting strong; this is about learning to do the lifts the right way. As you do these complexes, imagine the best Olympic lifter in the world walking in at the end of your third set. If you’d be embarrassed by how badly your form has deteriorated, then you need to go down in weight.
The imitation complex for the snatch and clean are below:

Snatch Clean
Mid-Shin to Pause x 6 reps Mid-Shin to Pause x 6 reps
Mid-Shin to Snatch Pull x 6 reps Mid-Shin to Clean Pull x 6 reps
Mid-Shin to Power Snatch x 6 reps Mid-Shin to Power Clean x 6 reps
Mid-Shin to Full Snatch x 6 reps Mid-Shin to Full Clean x 6 reps
Overhead Squat x 6 reps Power Jerk x 6 reps
Split Jerk x 6 reps

This complex could be adapted to suit your individual needs – it doesn’t always have to start at the mid-shin level – though most lifters have difficulty moving around the knee. This complex ensures that you’re comfortable off the floor and around the knee.
Here’s a video of me doing the snatch complex before a workout. It’s just the bar, and it isn’t easy.

Power/Positional Work

The first lift in your Olympic lifting session will be a variation on the traditional Olympic lifts, either from a modified starting position or into a modified receiving position.
When using the power variations, for the ones that you catch “high” or in the quarter squat, your focus will be on developing an efficient second pull. These lifts produce massive amounts of power and bar speed, as you must catch them in the high position.
The positional movements work on different phases of the lifts and transitions of your Olympic lifts.
A power lift should be alternated with a positional lift – one from the hang or from the blocks – each session. So in the first week, you may do all your first lifts from the floor as a power clean and power snatch, in the second week you may do all your lifts from hang start positions.
Be sure to choose your positional lifts based on the areas that need the most attention. The area that gives most people trouble is the phase where the bar passes the knees, or even at the highest position of the second pull (the power position).
If you know you have an area where you struggle, then focus more on positional work get the kinks worked out. You’ll have plenty of time to work from the floor later in the program.

Full Lift

Olympic Lifting Made Simple
The second lift in the program is one of the full, competition-style Olympic lifts. You’ll pull from the floor and receive the bar in the low squat position. When using the clean you should finish with a jerk.
If you have difficulty receiving the bar in the low squat position, then break these lifts down to combination lifts: a power clean + front squat or a power snatch + overhead squat.
As you get more comfortable a couple weeks into the program, start working to receive the bar as low as you can and ride the weight down to the bottom position.
The video below shows an easy progression from complete combination lift, to riding the bar down, to an actual low receiving position.

Partial Lift (Snatch and Clean Pulls)

When it comes to getting stronger at the Olympic lifts, partial lifts are the way to go. Unfortunately, like all Jason Statham movies, these lifts are under-appreciated. Partial lifts (the snatch and clean pull) allow you to overload the lifts without increasing the impact on your body.
Rather than finish in the racked position, you’ll finish with arms extended down and in full hip extension. These lifts can be done with up to 110% of your rep-max for whatever rep scheme you’re doing. So if your 3-rep max is 200 pounds in the snatch, then you can use up to 220 pounds for a 3-rep snatch pull.

Strength/Jerk Work

Becoming more efficient in the movements of the clean and snatch is one thing, but we need to get stronger, too. Having great technique in the lifts is cool but it doesn’t mean much if you still get buried in the hole.
Alternate your strength work between back squats, front squats, Romanian deadlifts, and presses. You still need to be squatting once a week – twice per week isn’t necessary, and if you still have energy, do some extra pressing. You can also do jerks from the rack to develop your technique in this area as well, especially if your aching legs need a break.

What’s the Program Look Like?

Olympic Lifting Made Simple
I don’t like rigid programs and most lifters don’t want to train that way, either. This program is no different; the actual movements should change based on your needs as a lifter.
If you’re rock solid in the clean and jerk but need a lot of help with your snatch, then don’t spend your time improving by miniscule percentile points in the jerk. Do some damn snatches and put something respectable over your head.
If this is the case, three out of every four days should be a snatch day. If both lifts need work then just alternate days that you snatch and clean.
The rep scheme, however, is more rigid (hey, we gotta live with some rules right?). All days should look very similar in terms of repetitions. You’ll still need to vary the movements on each day though.
The specific loads aren’t something I program, but here’s my rules for any given rep scheme on any given day, and one that applies really well for the Olympic lifts:

  • Work up to the highest load you can do for a given rep scheme with great technique.
  • Any sets on that day that fall within 10% of your best set should be counted as a work set.Ê So if your best set with great technique was 200 pounds in the snatch, then any set above 180 pounds (within 10%) will count as a work set.

Here’s an idea of how you can vary the movements over the course of 4 weeks using a simple undulating periodization. This program would be perfect for someone with familiarity with both lifts and some decent overall strength numbers.

Day 1

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Sets Reps
Comple x Clean and Jerk Snatch Clean and Jerk Snatch 2-3
A Power Clean Power Snatch Power Clean Power Snatch 3 3
B Clean and Jerk Snatch Clean and Jerk Snatch 3 2
C Clean Pull
from floor
Snatch Pull
from below knee
Clean Pull
from deficit
Snatch Pull
from floor
3 3
D RDL Front Squat Back Squat RDL 3 5

Day 2

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Sets Reps
Comple x Snatch Clean and Jerk Snatch Clean and Jerk 2-3
A Power Snatch Power Clean Power Snatch Power Clean 3 2
B Snatch Clean and Jerk Snatch Clean and Jerk 3 1
C Snatch Pull
from floor
Clean Pull
from floor
Snatch Pull
from floor
Clean Pull
from floor
3 2
D Front Squat Back Squat Front Squat Jerk from rack 3 3

Day 3

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Sets Reps
Comple x Snatch Clean and Jerk Snatch Clean and Jerk 2-3
A Hang Snatch
from below knee
Hang Clean
from below knee
Hang Snatch
from above knee
Hang Clean
from below knee
3 5
B Snatch Clean and Jerk Snatch Clean and Jerk 3 3
C Snatch Pull
from floor
Clean Pull
from floor
Snatch Pull
from floor
Clean Pull
from hang
3 5
D Back Squat Jerk from rack Press behind neck,
Snatch Grip
Front Squat 3 5

Day 4

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Sets Reps
Comple x Clean and Jerk Snatch Clean and Jerk Snatch 2-3
A Power Clean
from high blocks
Full Snatch
from high blocks
Full Clean
from hang
Power Snatch
from high blocks
3 3
B Clean and Jerk Snatch Clean and Jerk Snatch 3 2
C Clean Pull
from below knee
Snatch Pull
from deficit
Clean Pull
from floor
Snatch Pull
from deficit
3 3
D Press behind neck RDL Jerk from rack Back Squat 3 3

In week 5 you should pick two days to work up to a heavy single in both the snatch and the clean and jerk. Use these numbers to base your workouts for another 4 weeks.
This program can be repeated immediately after you complete it the first time and you’ll continue to see gains, so long as you select the movements that will help you improve the most.

Wrapping Up

Improvement with the Olympic lifts isn’t simply about strength – if it were, then every man wearing Zubaz pants would’ve just returned from a triumphant performance at the Olympics in London.
These movements are also about being efficient in the movements – meaning you first need to learn them well, and then focus on improving how well you perform them through repetition.
Get a coach to critique your lifts, try this program, and dominate the platform.

The Contreras Files: Volume II

hex bar deadlifts

Most of you likely spent the holidays relaxing with family and friends while assaulting your senses with food, alcohol, and the new Justin Bieber Christmas album. But while you were out decking the halls in your gay apparel, I was poring over the latest strength and conditioning research so you can kick off 2012 on the right foot. The typical lifter, athlete, personal trainer, strength coach, or physical therapist is bound to find something useful in this article.

Stretching and DOMS

DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) typically arises within a day of exercise and peaks in intensity at around 48 hours. Many strength & conditioning practitioners believe that stretching before or after exercise will reduce soreness.
Henschke and Lin (2011) reviewed the research on this topic and concluded that stretching does not affect muscle soreness. Twelve total studies were included with a combined 2,377 participants. Pooled estimates showed that pre- and post-exercise stretching reduced soreness on average by one point on a 100-point scale one day following exercise, increase soreness on average by one point on a 100-point scale two days following exercise, and had no effect on soreness by day three.
Findings were consistent across settings (lab vs. field studies), types of stretching, intensity of stretching, populations (athletic, untrained, men, women) and study quality, so the conclusions are not likely to change with future research.

Power Lifts versus Olympic Lifts – Peak Power Outputs

hex bar deadlifts

For decades coaches have argued about whether Olympic lifting is mandatory for athletes seeking maximal power production. Some coaches are strong advocates of Olympic variations based on the premise that Olympic lifts produce much higher power outputs compared to the powerlifts (Garhammer, 1993).
This may be true for maximal Olympic lifts compared to maximal power lifts, but this is because maximum power is derived with differing loads in the Olympic lifts compared to the power lifts. Maximum power is obtained with much heavier loads relative to 1RM with Olympic lifts, whereas with power lifts, maximum power is achieved with much lighter loads relative to 1RM.
Data from Garhammer (1980) showed that the highest peak power outputs involved in elite Olympic weightlifters belonged to lifters from the 110kg weight class. These lifters developed 4,807 watts of power during certain phases of the Olympic lifts. Examining the power clean, Winchester et al. (2005) reported maximum power values of 4,230 watts while Cormie et al. (2007) reported maximum power values of 4,900 watts.
A recent study examining 23 powerlifters and rugby players showed that deadlifts at 30% of 1RM produced 4,247 watts of power (Swinton et al., 2011a). This is slightly less than values reported by the same researchers in another recent study, which showed that peak power in a straight bar deadlift was 4,388 watts (at 30% of 1RM) while peak power in a hex bar deadlift was 4,872 watts (at 40% of 1RM). In fact, some individuals were able to reach values over 6,000 watts in the submaximal deadlifts (Swinton et al., 2011b).
The Olympic weightlifting versus powerlifting debate will undoubtedly continue to rage, but this emerging research should provide some interesting fuel to the equation. Considering the available research, .

Full ROM Versus Partials for Hypertrophy

Several studies have been conducted measuring the effects of full range of motion (ROM) lifts versus partial ROM lifts on maximal strength, but until now no study had measured the effects of full ROM lifts versus partial ROM lifts on hypertrophy.
Ronei et al. (published ahead of print) found that performing two sessions/week of preacher curls for ten weeks with full ROM (0° to 130° of elbow flexion) resulted in significantly higher muscle thickness gains in the biceps compared to the partial ROM group (50° to 100° of elbow flexion). The full ROM group increased hypertrophy by 9.52%, whereas the partial ROM group only by 7.37%, although the volume for the full ROM group was 36% lower than that of the partial ROM group.
The subjects used in this study lacked resistance training experience, so conclusions should be limited to newbies.

Sprint Acceleration – Everything Works

Australian researchers recently came up with a very cool study – they examined the effects of four different protocols (free sprinting, weights, plyometrics, and resisted sprinting) on sprint acceleration performance (Lockie et al., published ahead of print). Subjects consisted of field athletes who were already training at least three hours per week. Respective additional training sessions were performed twice per week for 60 minutes each for six total weeks.
Here are the highlights:

  • All groups significantly increased their 0-5 meter and 0-10 meter velocity by 9-10%.
  • All groups significantly increased their mean step length.
  • The weights and plyometrics groups also significantly increased their 5-10 meter velocity.
  • The free sprinting group significantly increased their 5-bound test, a measure of horizontal power.
  • The free sprinting, plyometrics, and resisted sprinting groups significantly increased their reactive strength index (jump height divided by contact time), a measure of elastic strength.
  • All groups significantly increased their 3RM squat and relative 3RM squat, with the weights group showing the largest increases in strength.
  • All groups increased their speed through increases in stride length, not by way of increases in stride frequency or decreased contact time.

This study showed that the underlying mechanisms for improvements were protocol-specific. Prior research has shown that combined training yields even greater results than using one specific method (Kotzamanidis et al. 2005), so chances are even better results could be realized if multiple protocols were trained concurrently.
Moreover, the weights group performed just vertical plane exercises consisting of squats, step ups, hip flexion, and calf raises. It’s possible that the weights group could have seen even better results had the researchers added in a horizontal hip strengthening exercises such as a hip thrust or a back extension.

The Kettlebell Swing

hex bar deadlifts

Brand new research by McGill and Marshall (published ahead of print) has taken a close look at the kettlebell swing. Swings were performed one arm at a time with a 16kg kettlebell and were initiated with the participant in the squat position with a neutral spine. Participants were cued to “initiate the swing through the sagittal plane by simultaneously extending their hips, knees and ankles and to use the momentum to swing the kettlebell to chest level and return to their initial starting position.”
Here are the highlights:

  • Lumbar spine ROM ranged from 26 degrees of flexion at the bottom of the movement to 6 degrees of extension at the top of the movement.
  • Hip ROM ranged from 75 degrees of flexion at the bottom of the movement to 1 degree of extension at the top.
  • Knee ROM ranged from 69 degrees of flexion to 2 degrees of extension.
  • As the movement progressed from the bottom of the swing to the top of the swing, back muscle activation peaked first at around 50% of MVC, followed by abdominal/oblique activation at around 20-30% of MVC, followed by gluteal muscle activation at around 75% of MVC.
  • The glutes were closely associated with end-range hip extension torque.
  • Spinal loading was greatest in the beginning of the swing (461N of shear and 3195N of compression), which dropped significantly as the ROM progressed to the middle of the swing (326N of shear and 2328N of compression) and finally to the top of the swing (156N of shear and 1903N of compression).
  • The effort is mostly concentric as gravity assists most of the eccentric component of the swing.
  • Muscle activation ramps up during a half-second interval in the concentric phase and then transitions to almost complete relaxation during much of the eccentric phase.

Russian kettlebell master Pavel Tsatsouline participated in this study and was able to reach 150% MVC in his erector spinae and 100% MVC in this gluteal muscles with just a 32kg kettlebell.

Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors

muscle smoke and mirrors

One of my American strength coach buddies in Auckland gave me an amazing book to read during my free time titled Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors: Volume I. Randy Roach, the author, spent considerable time researching the history of bodybuilding, from the origins of physical culture through the rise of the iron game. You may recall T Nation contributor Chris Colucci interviewing Randy about the book in 2009here.
I was very interested in learning more about some of the personalities of the characters who helped mould and shape the industry, including the Weiders, Bob Hoffman, and Vince Gironda to name a few. Though geniuses, most of our founders seem like eccentric and overly arrogant egomaniacs.
You’ll certainly find it interesting to learn about the “Weider Research Clinic,” not to mention the origins of various debates such as those pertaining to the squat exercise or training for strength versus size, and finally the infiltration of anabolic steroids.
I definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in the bodybuilding and nutrition industries as it’s important to know and understand their roots and progression.

Strongman Training

A study has finally been conducted examining the training methods of strongman competitors. Until now no such study existed. Winwood et al. (2011) surveyed 167 strongmen from 20 different countries on a variety of training topics.
Here are the highlights:

  • 66% of strongmen reported that the back squat was the most frequently performed type of squat. Front squats were often performed as well.
  • 88% of strongmen reported that the conventional deadlift was the most frequently performed type of deadlift. Partial deadlifts were often performed as well.
  • 80% of strongmen periodize their training and 83% use a training log.
  • 74% of strongmen perform hypertrophy training, 97% of strongmen perform maximal strength work, 90% of strongmen perform power training, and 90% of strongmen perform aerobic/anaerobic conditioning.
  • 60% of strongmen perform dynamic effort squats and deadlifts (explosive reps with submaximal loads), 56% use elastic bands, and 38% use chains.
  • 88% of strongmen incorporate Olympic lifting into their arsenals with 78% performing the clean. The jerk, snatch and high pull were frequently performed as well.
  • 54% of strongmen perform lower body plyometrics, 29% upper body plyometrics, and 20% ballistics (i.e., jump squat, bench throw).
  • 55% of strongmen perform HIIT and 53% perform low intensity cardio.
  • 54% of strongmen competitors train with strongman implements once per week and 24% train with strongman implements twice per week.
  • 82% of strongmen perform the tire flip, 95% perform the log clean and press, 94% perform the stones, 96% perform the farmers walk, and 49% perform the truck pull. Other strongman implements and exercises performed included various types of overhead presses (Viking, sleeper press, and dumbbells), carries (Conan’s wheel, shield, hydrant, and frame), pulls (harness, arm over arm, ropes, and chains), walks (duck and yoke), lifts (safe, kettlebells, and car deadlifts), holds (crucifix), and grip exercise (block, hand, and tools).

Low Back Loads

hex bar deadlifts

Many trainees fail to grasp spinal loading, in terms of both biomechanics and in common levels reached during functional movement, sports, and exercise. To help address this poorly understood topic, I created a chart below involving over twenty different studies.
Before you delve into this chart and start analyzing the data, there are a few things you should understand:

  • First, if you want to convert Newtons to pounds, know that one Newton equals .224808943 pounds of force. Conversely, one pound of force is equal to 4.44822162 Newtons. You can use these numbers to convert back and forth from pounds to Newtons and vice versa. For example, in Cholewicki’s deadlift study, 17,192N of compressive force equates to (17,942N)(.224808943 lbs/N) = 4,034 pounds of force.
  • The reason why such incredible compressive forces are placed on the spine during deadlifts has a lot to do with the intense contractions of core muscles needed to support the spine. These muscles clamp down on the spine, causing compressive forces to far exceed the load of the barbell. Granhed’s study used a slightly lower moment-arm measurement for the spinal extensor musculature (5 cm compared to 6 cm) than Cholewicki’s study that helps explain the larger values reported.
  • Due to the orientation of the various vertebrae, joint shear force estimates are highly dependent on the vertebral level examined. For example, L5/S1 is inclined forward around 30° more than L4/L5, causing it to receive much higher shear forces. For this reason, comparisons should only be made between studies examining the same vertebral level (and even then methodology differences complicate matters). Moreover, shear forces can be directed anteriorly or posteriorly; this chart doesn’t specify the direction of forces.
Activity Site Compressive
Shear Loading
First Author
Golf swing L3/L4 6,100-7,500N N/A Hosea
Rowing L3/L4
4.6x bodyweight
Football linemen blocking manoeuvre L4/L5 8,679N 3,304N
(2.6x bodyweight)
Functional Tasks Site Compressive
Shear Loading
First Author
Lifting a 50 pound box from knee to waist height L5/S1 6,000-7,000N 1,200-1,600N Marras
Lifting a 33 pound box L5/S1 6,342N 1,755N Kingma
Pushing and pulling at waist height with 40% of bodyweight L2/L3 N/A 1,100-1,200N Knapik
Squatting Site Compressive
Shear Loading
First Author
Half squat w/loads of .8-1.6x bodyweight L3/L4 10x bodyweight* N/A Cappozzo
Traditional squat L5/S1 10,473N 3,843N Lander
Isometric squat L3 6,248-11,497N 420-906N Hansson
Deadlifting Site Compressive
Shear Loading
First Author
Women L4/L5 6,400N 1,107N Cholewicki
Men 12,641N 1,739N
Conventional 10,738N 1,643N
Sumo 10,405N 1,530N
Maximum value 18,449N N/A
Combined (sumo and conventional) L3/L4 18,800-36,400N N/A Granhed
Round back L4/L5 N/A 1,900 McGill
Isometric deadlift L3 6,785-8,898N 729-1012N Hansson
Abdominal Exercises Site Compressive
Shear Loading
First Author
Straight leg sit up L4/L5 3,230N 260N McGill
Bent knee sit up 3,410N 300N
Straight leg sit up L4/L5 3,502N N/A Axler
Bent knee sit up 3,350N
Crunch 1,991N
Lying leg raise 2,525N
Twisting crunch 2,964N
Hanging straight leg raise 2,805N
Hanging bent knee leg raise 3,313N
Side plank 2,585N
Standing cable walkout L4/L5 2,743-4,185N 464-714N McGill
Overhead cable push 2,327-3,006N 584-760N
Isometric axial twist L5/S1 3,382-4,158N 1,409-1,688N Arjmand
Low Back Exercises Site Compressive
Shear Loading
First Author
Quadruped hip ext L4/L5 2,000N 150N Callaghan
Bird dog 3,000N 200N
Superman 4,000N 50N
Back extension 4,000N 250N
Bridge L4/L5 2,853N N/A Kavcic
Standing isometric back extension L5/S1 1,400-1,600N 950-1,100N Kingma
Kettlebell Exercises Site Compressive
Shear Loading
First Author
Swing L4/L5 3,195N 461N McGill
Swing to snatch 2,992N 404N
Strongman Exercises Site Compressive
Shear Loading
First Author
Farmer’s walk L4/L5 9,876N 2,409N McGill
Super yoke 12,043N 1,341N
Atlas stone lift 5,659N 635N
Suitcase carry 6,890-9,061N 1,520-2,143N
Keg walk 6,591-8,412N 913-1,249N
Tire flip 7,921N 138N
Log lift 7,270N 1,021N
Rowing Exercises Site Compressive
Shear Loading
First Author
Bent over row L4/L5 3,576N 87N McGill
Inverted row 2,339N 76N
Cable row 2,457N 130N
Push Up Exercises Site Compressive
Shear Loading
First Author
Standard L4/L5 2,900N 490N Beach
Suspended 3,800N 520N
Standard L4/L5 1,838N N/A Freeman
Explosive 3,905N
Clapping 4,699N
One arm 5,848N
Alternating 6,224N

In 1981 the NIOSH set action limits for compression at 3,400N with maximum permissible limits at 6,300N. Some spinal experts have suggested that maximum shear loads should be limited to 1,000N.
As you can see, much of what we do on the field or in the weight room exceeds these limits (sometimes by a large margin). Many coaches vilify certain exercises based on the levels of spinal loading they produce only to prescribe alternative exercises that exceed the levels reached in the exercises they discourage. Hopefully this chart will assist coaches with logical consistency in exercise prescription decision-making.

Neck Training

hex bar deadlifts

Coaches have long debated whether specific neck training is necessary for maximum neck strength and size. Some say that neck isolation lifts are needed, while others say that posterior chain exercises such as squats, deadlifts, shrugs, and bent over rows will build all the necessary neck strength and size.
I recently located a study conducted in 1997 by researchers out of The University of Georgia that took a close look at the topic of training for neck strength and size (Conley et al., 1997). One group performed 12 weeks of squats, push presses, rack pulls, shrugs, RDL’s, bent over rows, and crunches.
Another group added in neck harness extensions. Group number one failed to increase their neck extension strength and neck size, whereas group number two saw a 34% increase in neck extension strength and a 13% increase in the cross-sectional area of selected neck muscles (mostly the splenius capitis, semispinalis capitis, semispinalis cervicis and multifidus).

Yin and Yang Planks: The Hardstyle Plank

RKC creator Pavel Tsatsouline likes to talk about yin and yang planks. Yin planks are performed by simply chillaxin’ in the plank position. You might think your 3-minute plank is pretty badass, but George Hood, a 54-year-old former Marine and DEA Agent, recently shattered your best plank performance by a long shot. On December 3, 2011, in Naperville, Illinois, Hood held a plank for 1 hour, 20 minutes, and 5 seconds. You read that correctly – over 80 minutes! While incredibly impressive, this is an extreme example of a Yin plank, since it can be held for a prolonged period of time. Here’s a video highlighting Hood’s performance:

A yang plank, on the other hand, is done with an all-out performance in a shorter period of time. Allow me to introduce the RKC plank.
The RKC plank is a reverse-engineered core exercise that’s evolved into a brutal full body iso-hold. The RKC plank is also called the “Hardstyle Plank,” and when done right, wipes you out completely after only 10 seconds.
Pavel likes to teach his students the “yang” plank and show them how they can completely exhaust their bodies through maximum static exertion. The RKC plank has you manipulating whole body muscle tension to generate maximum internal work from the plank position.
Though you won’t be moving – it’s a static exercise – you’ll be engaging in an all-out 10-second isometric war by applying torque to joints that are locked into the ground by gravity. Pavel has all sorts of nifty cues that he’s come up with and will even teach you how to breathe efficiently for maximum performance, but I’m a straight up biomechanics geek so my instructions will be very cut and dry. Here’s the RKC plank in 10 not-so-easy steps:

  1. Get into standard plank position
  2. Make sure the neck is in neutral and there’s a straight line from the head to the toes
  3. Keep the forearms in neutral and the elbows placed directly underneath the armpits
  4. Make tight fists with the hands to allow for irradiation (meaning the tension is so high that it “spills” over into the other muscles)
  5. Keep the shoulders back and down and screw them into place through an external rotation torque
  6. Contract the quadriceps forcefully to lock out the knees (you’ll be surprised how high they go)
  7. Squeeze the thighs together through an adduction torque
  8. Pull the elbows down to the toes with the lats
  9. Pull the toes up to the elbows via the abs and hip flexors, thereby creating a hip flexion torque at the hips (i.e. a pike)
  10. Forcefully contract the gluteus maximus to a) counter the hip flexion moment (pike) and keep the hips extended, b) counternutate the sacrum to allow for proper inner core unit function, and c) posteriorly tilt the pelvis which decreases residual tension on the hip flexors and lumbar spine and increases residual tension on the gluteals and abdominals (when the knees are locked your pelvis won’t rotate much).

It takes some time to get this right – don’t expect to master it the first time you try it. Pick a couple points at a time and eventually you’ll have all of it down pat. When you finally get it right, you’ll never question the level of challenge provided by a plank ever again. I’ve been teaching the hardstyle plank to trainers and it’s an instant hit as within 10-20 seconds they’re shaking and convulsing.


I hope you enjoyed my ramblings and perhaps picked up something useful you can use in your own training.
In summary:

  • Stretching doesn’t do jack squat for reducing muscle soreness.
  • Perform explosive hex bar deadlifts with 40% of 1RM and you’ll register just as high of power outputs as you would in an Olympic lift.
  • Full range movements trump partials for strength and hypertrophy.
  • Multiple methods including weights, sprints, sled work, and plyos will improve acceleration performance.
  • Kettlebell swings are a great glute activator that builds terminal range hip extension power.
  • Read Muscle, Smoke and Mirrors to gain an appreciation of our industry’s roots.
  • Strongmen incorporate many types of training into their arsenals, including hypertrophy, strength, power, and conditioning work.
  • Many things we do on the field or in the weight room far exceed spinal loading safety limits.<
  • If you want a big and strong neck, train it specifically.
  • Hardstyle (RKC) planks rock the standard plank’s world.

See you next month!


Conley MS, Stone MH, Nimmons M, Dudley GA. Specificity of resistance training responses in neck muscle size and strength. 1997. Eur J Appl Physio. 75: 443-48.
Cormie, P, McCaulley, GO, Triplett, TN, and McBride, JM. Optimal loading for maximal power output during lower-body resistance exercises. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 39: 340–349, 2007.
Garhammer, J. Power production by Olympic weightlifters. 1980. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 12(1):54-60.
Garhammer, J. A review of power output studies of Olympic and powerlifting: methodology, performance prediction, and evaluation tests. J Strength Cond Res. 7: 76–89, 1993.
Henschke N and Lin CC. Stretching before or after exercise does not reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness. 2011. Br J Sports Med. 45: 1249-50.
Kotzamanidis C, Chatzopoulos D, Michailidis C, Papaiakovou G, Patikas D. The effect of combined high-intensity strength and speed training program on the running and jumping ability of soccer players. 2005. J Strength Cond Res. 19(2) 369-75.
Lockie RG, Murphy AJ, Schultz AB, Knight TJ, Janse de Jonge XAK. The effects of different speed training protocols on sprint acceleration kinematics and muscle strength and power in field sport athletes. J Strength Cond Res. Published ahead of print.
Ronei PS, Gomes N, Radaelli R, Botton CE, Brown LE, and Bottaro M. Effect of motion on muscle strength and thickness. J Strength Cond Res. Published ahead of print.
Swinton PA, Stewart AD, Keough JWL, Agouris I, and Lloyd R. Kinematic and kinetic analysis of maximal velocity deadlifts performed with and without the inclusion of chain resistance. 2011a. J Strength Cond Res. 25(11) 3163-74.
Swinton PA, Stewart A, Agouris I, Keough JWL, and Lloyd R. A biomechanical analysis of straight and hexagonal barbell deadlifts using submaximal loads. J Strength Cond Res. 2011b. J Strength Cond Res. 25(7) 2000-9.
Winchester, JB, Erickson, TM, Blaak, JB, and McBride, JM. Changes in bar-path kinematics and kinetics after power-clean training. J Strength Cond Res. 19: 177–183, 2005.
Winwood PL, Keogh JWL, Harris NK. The strength and conditioning practices of strongman competitors. 2011. J Strength Cond Res. 25(11)3118-28.


Olympic Lifts and Dumbbells

A Winning Combination

Olympic Lifts and Dumbbells

Weightlifting movements (cleans, jerks, and snatches) have finally been accepted as a valuable training method for both athletes and those training for fitness. This acceptance is based largely on a number of key reasons:

  • The high power output that occurs when performing these movements.
  • The biomechanical similarity between the weightlifting movements and those that occur frequently in sport.
  • The high caloric expenditure that occurs when performing these exercises due to the multiple muscle groups required to perform them.

Typically, when we think of weightlifting movements (commonly referred to as the Olympic lifts), we think of the lifts being performed on a platform with a barbell and bumpers. However, it’s also possible to perform all these movements safely and effectively with dumbbells.
Dumbbells are often underused in most weight-rooms, used only to perform biceps curls, flyes, or the occasional dumbbell bench press. Many trainees have the mistaken notion that best increases in strength can only occur through barbell training; however, the key to increasing strength is not the mode of training but the intensity – and you can train with as much intensity with dumbbells as you can with any other method of training, including barbells.
Having worked as a strength and conditioning coach at the collegiate and Olympic Training Center level for 20 years, I can assure you there are some unique benefits to performing these lifts with dumbbells.
Some of the benefits are more practical in nature. For example, performing these movements with dumbbells doesn’t require any specialized equipment (e.g., high quality weightlifting bar, bumpers, platform) and for most, the movements tend to be easier learned with dumbbells than with barbells.
On the other hand, some of the benefits of using dumbbells to perform the weightlifting movements are more technical in nature. For example, training with dumbbells demands that the lifter control two independent implements simultaneously, requiring a high degree of motor skill.
Further, dumbbells allow movements to be performed with either alternating arms or one arm at a time, rather than having to always use both arms simultaneously. For some athletes, this single arm action more closely matches what occurs in their sport (e.g., throwing a ball, swinging a racquet, fighting off a blocker while tackling a running back).
For those not involved in athletics, performing alternating or single-arm movements increases training variation, eliminating the need to perform the same exercises with the same technique each workout.

The Weightlifting Movements, Dumbbell Style

Olympic Lifts and Dumbbells

As mentioned, the weightlifting movements consist of cleans, jerks (performed as a clean and jerk in competition), and snatches. There are numerous variations and associated training exercises that can be performed based on those three exercises, especially when using dumbbells.
Below is a list of exercises and the technique associated with each exercise.

Dumbbell Jerks and Related Exercises

Dumbbell Push Press

In a shoulder-width stance, hold the dumbbells so the back ends of the dumbbells are on the shoulders.
Reach back at the hips and drop to a normal jump depth while keeping the heels on the floor.
Quickly extend the hips to full extension, transferring the momentum from the lower body through the core to the upper body. This jumping action will cause the dumbbells to rise off the shoulders briefly.
From there, press the dumbbells to full extension. The movement can be performed one arm at a time or with alternating arms.

Dumbbell Power Jerk

Using the same movement pattern as the push press (but with more speed and quickness), drop to a jump position.
Quickly extend the hips and throw the dumbbells from the shoulders to a fully extended position overhead.
There’s no pressing action involved; the dumbbells are thrown from the shoulders to a fully extending position in one explosive effort. The movement can also be performed one arm at a time or with alternating arms.

Dumbbell Split Jerk

Using the same movement pattern as the push press (but with more speed and quickness) drop to a jump position.
Quickly extend the hips and throw the dumbbells from the shoulders to a fully extended position overhead in one explosive effort.
As the dumbbells are being extended, simultaneously split the feet front to back in what can be thought of as a high lunge position. In the catch position the front knee will be slightly bent, and the knee of the rear leg will be unlocked.
While keeping the arms fully extended, recover the legs from the split position by taking a half step up and a half step back until the feet are squared up in a shoulder-width stance.
Once the feet are squared up, lower the dumbbells back to the shoulders. The movement can be performed one arm at a time or with alternating arms.

Dumbbell Split Alternating Feet Jerk

Identical to the split position described above, however, the lifter will alternate the feet in the split position each repetition, splitting the right foot forward on one repetition and the left foot forward on the following repetition.
For the athlete this is important because it teaches them to be strong, balanced, and in control with either foot forward. For those training for fitness it provides an additional training variation. The movement can be performed one arm at a time or with alternating arms.

Dumbbell Split Alternating Feet Alternating Jerk

As in the previous description, the lifter alternates their feet in the split position each repetition.
The lifter is also performing the movement one arm at a time, first jerking with the right arm and then with the left on the next repetition.
The movement is performed opposite arm opposite leg, so that when the right arm is jerking the dumbbell, the left leg is being split forward and visa versa. This is a complex movement pattern. As a result, strength and power are being enhanced along with coordination and movement skills.

Dumbbell Cleans and Related Exercises

Dumbbell Hang Power Clean

The movement is performed with the handles of the dumbbells centered laterally on the knee joint.
The feet are in a shoulder width stance, back arched, head up, and the shoulders forward of the dumbbell.
From this start position the hips are extended, as in a jumping action.
At the top of the jump the shoulders are shrugged quickly and straight up, and the dumbbells pulled up along the side of the rib cage to a position just under the armpits. The dumbbells continue to be oriented front to back.
At the top of the pull the hips are moved back into a semi-squat position, the heels are down, and the arm/dumbbell unit is brought up around quickly so that the elbows are high and pointed across the room and the rear of the dumbbells are caught high on the shoulders.
The movement can be performed one arm at a time or with alternating arms.

Dumbbell Power Clean

This is identical to the dumbbell hang power clean described above except the start position is changed from a hang position to a start position that mimics the start position of performing the movement from the floor with a barbell.
This places the dumbbells at about mid-shin position, maintaining the front to back orientation previously discussed.
The dumbbells are caught in the power position rather than a squat position. The movement can also be performed one arm at a time or with alternating arms.

Dumbbell Hang Clean

The adjustment here is that rather than performing a power clean (caught in a semi squat position), you perform a full clean from the hang position, dropping into a parallel or lower squat position.
Because the dumbbells are caught in a lower position than in the power clean, generally more weight can be used in this exercise than when performing the power clean. The movement can be performed one arm at a time or with alternating arms.

Dumbbell Clean

The start position moves from the hang position to the mid-shin position previously discussed. You then perform a full clean from that mid-shin start position.
Because of the longer range of motion to develop momentum on the dumbbells, and the low catch position; generally the greatest amount of weight can be used when performing this variation. The movement can also be performed one arm at a time or with alternating arms.

Dumbbell Snatches and Related Exercises

Dumbbell Hang Power Snatch

The movement is performed with the handles of the dumbbells centered laterally on the knee joint.
The feet are in a shoulder width stance, back arched, the head up, and the shoulders are forward of the dumbbell.
From this start position the hips are extended, as in a jumping action. At the top of the jump the shoulders are shrugged quickly and straight up.
At the top of the shrug the dumbbells are pulled up along the side of the rib cage to a position just under the arm pits, past the shoulders and straight up past the ears and caught with the arms fully extended directly over the shoulders. The dumbbells continue to be oriented front to back.
At the top of the pull the hips move back into a semi-squat position, the heels are down, and the arms/dumbbell unit is brought up and around quickly so that the dumbbells are caught with the arms fully extended over head in one motion. The movement can be performed one arm at a time or with alternating arms.

Dumbbell Power Snatch

Identical to the dumbbell hang power snatch described above except the start position is changed from a hang position to a start position that mimics performing the movement from the floor with a barbell.
This places the dumbbells at about mid-shin position, maintaining the front to back orientation previously discussed.
The dumbbells are caught in the power position rather than a squat position. The movement can also be performed one arm at a time or with alternating arms.

Dumbbell Hang Split Alter Foot Snatch

The adjustment here is that rather than performing a power snatch (caught in a semi-squat position), you perform a full snatch from the hang position, dropping into a split position. In the catch position the front knee will be slightly bent, the knee will be unlocked in the rear leg.
While keeping the arms fully extended, recover the legs from the split position by taking a half step up and a half step back until the feet are squared up in a shoulder width stance.
Alternate the split position each repetition. Once the feet are squared up, lower the dumbbells back to the shoulders.
Because the dumbbells are caught in a lower position than in the power snatch, generally more weight can be used in this exercise than when performing the power snatch. The movement can be performed one arm at a time or with alternating arms.

Dumbbell Split Alter Foot Snatch

The start position moves from the hang position to the mid-shin position previously discussed. You then perform a full snatch from that mid-shin start position, dropping into a split position. In the catch position, the front knee will be slightly bent, the knee will be unlocked in the rear leg.
While keeping the arms fully extended recover the legs from the split position by taking a half step up and a half step back until the feet are squared up in a shoulder-width stance.
Because of the longer range of motion to develop momentum on the dumbbells and the split position, this variation generally allows for the greatest amount of weight to be used. The movement can also be performed one arm at a time or with alternating arms.


Olympic Lifts and Dumbbells

There are numerous advantages to performing the weightlifting movements with dumbbells. These advantages warrant their inclusion into the training programs of both athletes and those training for fitness.
Just be sure to emphasize great technique when performing them because, much like the barbell lifts, they’re a skill and must be respected as such.
Best of luck with your training!


The Truth About Olympic Lifts

It’s easy to start an Internet flame war. Just write something about Olympic lifts.

You like them, and use them with the athletes you train? Unless you’re specific about the context, you’re likely to hear from coaches who assure you the lifts are non-functional and fall on the wrong side of the risk-reward continuum.

You don’t like Olympic lifts, and don’t use them with your athletes? Prepare to get your ass handed to you by coaches who’ll tell you about their success training the Mongolian chess team to a world title using nothing but O lifts and finger-specific mobility drills.

I got sucked into the maelstrom when I said, in this edition of Mythbusters, that “if you aren’t an Olympic weightlifter who trains in a facility set up for Olympic weightlifting, you have no business doing Olympic lifts.”

Since then, I’ve wanted to modify that statement, to move past black-and-white, good-or-bad arguments to focus on these important points:

Power Training Is Misunderstood

Let’s start with a simple equation: Power = strength x speed.

By definition, everything we do in life, in or out of the gym and on or off the field of competition, involves an expression of power.

Whoever finished the marathon first produced the most power.

Whoever can do the most push-ups in a minute produces more power than anyone who does fewer.

If it used to take your grandfather two minutes to get up a flight of stairs, and now after working out he can get up the same flight of stairs in only one minute, we can say he’s producing more power.

Chances are, you don’t think of any of those things as “power” activities. There’s no explosive component, as you’d see in a sprint, or a one-rep-max bench press, or if Gramps decided to take the steps three at a time.

So, just to prevent confusion, I want to be specific about this: Just about everything you do in the gym helps improve your ability to generate power. The goal of Olympic lifts is to improve explosive power.

Everyone, in my view, can benefit from doing some form of explosive power training. You don’t have to do that with Olympic lifts, but you can. The goal is to teach your body to transfer force from the ground to your fingertips, and to do that effectively and efficiently.

Injuries and O Lifts

It almost goes without saying that you shouldn’t attempt Olympic lifts if you’re currently injured. But what about lingering effects of past injuries, which might produce pain and/or mobility limitations? Let’s discuss.

Neck issues

Holding a load overhead — as you would in a snatch or push press — creates some of the highest cervical-spine compression forces you can produce in the weight room. So if you have any history of neck problems, I highly recommend avoiding overhead snatches and push presses.

Cleans may or may not be a problem. As they say in the Flomax commercials, check with your doctor first.

Lower-back issues

If you’ve had past problems with your spinal discs or facets (the bone structures on the outer edges of your vertebrae that prevent spine-damaging movements), I’d skip the Olympic lifts without an okay from your doctor.

The starting positions involve loaded trunk flexion, which is potentially dangerous for your discs. Those with facet damage — usually from arthritis, an acute injury, or long-term wear and tear — will have trouble with the trunk extension at the end of each lift. (Quick test: If you can bend backwards at the waist without pain or limitations, you probably don’t have facet problems.)

It’s possible to do O lifts without pain even if you’ve had disc or facet injuries. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, or that you’ll get benefits from these exercises that you couldn’t get from exercises with fewer risks.

How to Know if You’re Ready

Try these tests before you jump into Olympic lifts.

Test #1: shoulder mobility

Stand with a neutral spine (in its natural arch, in other words). Lift your arms straight up as high as you can without changing your spinal alignment. This is a test of shoulder flexion in conjunction with thoracic extension. Compare your range of motion against the three photos at your right.

The first photo shows ideal range of motion with the correct posture. The second shows what happens when you have limited range of motion, but compensate with excessive spinal extension. The final one shows limited shoulder range, without compensating by moving something else.

(For corrective exercises, check out Mike Boyle’s article on mobility drills.)

Test #2: shoulder impingement

The illustration at right shows what impingement looks like from the inside. The test to see if you have it is quick and simple: Stand or sit up straight with one hand on the opposite shoulder, as shown in the first photo. Now lift the elbow straight up, as shown in the next photo, without lifting your hand off your shoulder.

If you can do this without pain, you’re clear to do whatever you want in the weight room. If you do have pain or discomfort, skip the O lifts for now, see a qualified physical therapist, and work to alleviate the problem.

Test #3: hamstring symmetry

This test of the functional range of movement available to your hamstrings is part of the functional movement screen originally developed by Gray Cook. It’s important because the hamstrings play a major role in the triple extension mechanism of your ankle, knee, and hip joints that occurs during O lifts.

Lie on your back with a slab of wood or two five-pound plates under each thigh, as shown in the pictures to your right. Lift one leg as high as possible without bending the knee or allowing your lower leg to come off the weight plates. Check both sides.

We’re looking for symmetry here. It doesn’t matter if your hamstrings are tight, as long as both sides are equally tight.

If one side is tighter than the other, it’s likely to cause unnecessary torque in your hips and lumbar spine when you lift anything from the floor. This applies to deadlifts as well as O lifts. The solution is to do your lifts from a hang while working to improve your mobility on the side that’s tighter.

Test #4: hip mobility

Before you do O lifts from the floor, you need to be able to do the toe-touch squat, shown at your right from two different angles, with your spine in its neutral position. If you can’t, scratch floor-based lifts off your workout charts.

You still might be able to do Oly lifts from a hang position, depending on whether you can achieve the shortstop position, shown in the next photo, with a neutral spine.

If you can’t achieve either position but do Olympic lifts anyway, there’s a significant chance you’ll be buying a new set of breast implants for some orthopedic surgeon’s wife.

Higher-Risk Olympic Lifts

As you’ve probably guessed from the tests you just tried, Olympic lifts from the floor bring a higher risk of injury than other variations. The athletes I train don’t do any O lifts from the floor, regardless of their fitness level or lifting experience. There’s just too much stress on the lower back and too much room for error, even with good technique.

In my view, you can get all the benefits you want from O lifts by starting from a hang. Competitive weightlifters are the only ones who need to start from the floor.

The other big danger comes from doing repetitive Olympic lifts with heavier weights. My opinion is that anything greater than your five-rep max should be done as a series of singles, and dropped to the floor on each rep. That means you need to work out in a facility that allows you to drop the bar from overhead.

If you don’t drop it, you’re taking a weight that you needed your entire body to lift overhead, and then lowering it with just your arms and shoulders. That can lead to elbow, wrist, and/or shoulder injuries.

All that said, using lighter loads repetitively shouldn’t present problems, as long as you can do it without pain. Barbell complexes using Oly lifts are a great tool for improving overall conditioning and accelerating fat loss. (This article shows three different complexes using variations on the clean.)

“O” Is for … Hypertrophy?

The complexes I just mentioned for fat loss can also put some muscle on your back and shoulders. I’ve seen it with female athletes as well as with the guys I train.

Here’s a complex I’ve used for shoulder, back, and arm hypertrophy, shown in the first video at right:

Do five to eight reps of each exercise, and then move on to the next exercise without rest; don’t set the bar down even to change hand positions. (In the video, you’ll see me flip it around in my hands when I go from the hang snatch to biceps curls.)

Do the complex two to five times, resting one to three minutes in between. It works best if you do it at the end of a hypertrophy workout, especially if you’re in a cutting phase. You can build new muscle and cut fat at the same time.

Here’s another, which you’d do with slightly heavier weights:

Go for four to six reps per exercise, and do the same number of sets with the same amount of rest in between.

O Lifts for Sports Performance

Here’s where I want to clarify the remarks I made in the Mythbusters article I mentioned earlier. In my view, Olympic lifts do transfer very well into performance in a lot of sports. They just work better for some athletes than for others, and they work better for athletes in particular sports.

O lifts are really a form of vertical-jump training. If you’re playing a sport in which you need to jump, or coaching an athlete in one of those sports, you’ll probably get great results … assuming you or the athlete is a good candidate for these lifts, as determined by the tests I showed earlier. So if I’m coaching an athlete in basketball or volleyball, O lifts would probably be a big part of our training program.

But if we’re talking about sports like boxing, or golf, or rock climbing, it’s hard to see how vertical-jump training will help. Sure, boxers bounce around, and rock climbers have to dyno every now and then, but it’s not the same.

In fact, any good boxing coach will tell you that most punches should have a slight downward motion. The expression of power transfer in Olympic lifts goes the opposite direction.

I might use variations on Olympic lifts as part of their conditioning in certain stages, but those lifts wouldn’t be the focus of our training.

On the other hand, MMA lifters, like linemen in football, need to be able to attack and dominate their opponents, which often involves exploding into them with an upward trajectory to lift them off the ground or knock them off their feet. O lifts are a great tool for those athletes. (More on that point in a moment.)

So it’s a mistake to use blanket statements about O lifts and sports, whether it’s me discounting their effectiveness or another coach saying they’re great. Assuming the athlete in question is ready and able to do them with good form, it all depends on which sport we’re talking about, and how the athlete would transfer what he learns from O lifting to what he does in competition.

Technical Overload

Now it’s time to piss off a whole new part of the readership: The biggest problem I have with O lifts is the same problem I have with kettlebells. They require a lot of time and energy to learn the proper technique.

I’ll start most of my athletes off with basic O-lift variations as part of their training for explosive power. Some will get it, and some won’t. The ones who learn the fastest will probably continue using O lifts in their training, even if those lifts don’t have a direct transfer to their sport.

But with the ones who don’t catch on, I rarely have enough time with them to work on technique.

I need to find the most effective and efficient ways to improve their ability to play their sport and tolerate its stresses without overloading them with stuff that they may not need. If I know of two ways to accomplish the same training goal, chances are I’m going to use the one with the shorter learning curve and least risk of injury.

I use the example of kettlebells because it takes some coaching and practice to be able to use them without bruising up your forearms and wrists. Swings are a great exercise — I absolutely love them, and use them with most of my athletes and in my own training. But you can do all the other popular KB exercises with dumbbells and not really lose any of the benefits.

As an example, check out the one-arm dumbbell snatch shown in the video to your right. Sure, you can do a more technical version with a kettlebell, but I’m not going to invest the time it takes to teach that to an athlete when I can accomplish the same goals with a dumbbell.

If you’re a lifter who likes to challenge himself, I don’t discourage you from using kettlebells or learning Olympic lifts. Hell, it’s your time and your body, and the strength, power, and coordination you develop should improve your performance in all kinds of ways, in or out of the gym.

But with my athletes, I have to decide if they’re truly the best tool for what we’re trying to accomplish.

So what are those alternatives? Remember, the goal is to develop explosive power, and there are other ways to do that.

One of my favorites is medicine-ball throws. The video at right shows one example, using a sand-filled ball outdoors. Obviously, you can do these indoors with regular medicine balls, as I showed in this article.

One benefit to using med-ball work as a supplement or alternative to Olympic lifts is that you develop explosive power in rotational movements, something you need for most sports but can’t train with barbell cleans and snatches.

The Rules You Must Break

Let’s say that you’re a coach who’s training an athlete with a 38-inch vertical jump — fantastic explosive power. When he plays his sport — let’s say it’s basketball or volleyball — he’s going to have to jump many times, not just once.

So, as a coach, what’s the most important quality to train in this athlete? You want him to be able to repeat that explosive power throughout a contest, right? So if you end up with an athlete who can jump 38 inches once, but jump 35 inches throughout a grueling contest, you’ve done a good job.

To develop that power endurance, you have to break two of the rules of Olympic lifting.

Rule #1 says that Oly lifts and other power training should come first in the program.

But if you want that athlete to be explosive at the end of a competition, when he or she is exhausted, you must train the athlete for that specific goal. That means doing O lifts and other power work throughout the entire workout session. Even at the end.

Keep in mind that we aren’t trying to improve explosive power production here, we’re trying to develop the capacity to produce the same level of power for a longer period of time — the length of competition.

The rule is in place for a reason: Since these power exercises require more skill and attention to form, you want to practice them when you’re fresh. Form is more likely to break down in a fatigued state.

But that’s exactly what happens in competition: Athletes get tired, and their form breaks down. Watch two UFC fighters in the fourth and fifth round. Even the best ones get sloppy.

Your goal, as an athlete or coach, is to make sure form doesn’t get sloppy, no matter how tired you or the athletes you’re training become. You simply don’t allow bad form. All sports require a massive amount of technique and skill. So using high-skill movements at the end of a workout can better prepare an athlete for what’s required in actual competition.

Rule #2 says that you train for power using relatively low volume and a lot of rest between sets — five sets of five, say, with two to four minutes of rest.

That’s a great way to build peak explosive power. But it doesn’t prepare you or the guys you’re training to go five rounds, or to beat your opponent to the ball at the end of the fourth quarter. It doesn’t help you achieve power endurance, in other words.

I’m lucky enough to be able to work with a large group of pro and amateur fighters from Ground Control MMA Baltimore. O lifts help the fighters train to explode into opponents, lift them up, and take them down. Because MMA is a weight-class sport, the weight used during O lifts should be roughly the same as the weight class the fighter competes in.

If a fighter can clean 1.5 times his body weight for three reps, that’s great. But it doesn’t help him move his opponent around the ring for the entire fight. For that, he needs to train with loads approximating his body weight at the beginning, middle, and end of a workout.

Wrapping It Up

It’s easy to praise or condemn Olympic lifts, or any other system of training, but the truth is always somewhere in the middle. Whether you’re an athlete, a coach, or just a dedicated lifter who wants to develop the most size, strength, and athletic function possible, Olympic lifts can have a place in your program, as long as you understand what they can do, and how to use them.

For me, these are the most important points:

If you understand all these point and decide O lifts are the right choice for you, have at it. There’s not much you can do in the gym that gives you the satisfaction of completing a clean or snatch with an impressive weight and perfect form.

The Truth About Olympic Lifts

This one shows the ideal range of motion in your shoulders and thoracic spine with good posture.

The Truth About Olympic Lifts

Here you see the range of motion achieved only with excessive extension of the lumbar spine.

The Truth About Olympic Lifts

This last one shows poor range of motion without compensation.

The Truth About Olympic Lifts

The drawing at the right shows shoulder impingement from the inside.

The Truth About Olympic Lifts

Shoulder-impingement test

The Truth About Olympic Lifts

Hamstring symmetry testThe Truth About Olympic Lifts

Ideal range of motion for the toe-touch squat.

The Truth About Olympic Lifts

If you can do the shortstop position with a neutral spine, you can probably do Olympic lifts from a hang without an excessive injury risk.

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About Nick Tumminello

The Truth About Olympic Lifts

Nick Tumminello, the director of Performance University, is a nationally recognized coach and educator who works with a select group of athletes, physique competitors, and exercise enthusiasts in Baltimore, Maryland. Go to his new website to get your free “Smarter & Stronger” video course.

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