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Supplemental Exercises for Olympic Weightlifting | Don’t Skip These!
Supplemental exercises for Olympic weightlifting should reinforce technique and help correct muscular imbalances.
It should also develop strength and muscle mass in key areas.
Assistance exercises should not tire you out to the point where you can’t put your energy where it matters–the lifts.
Your supplemental exercises align with three important factors:
- The ability to mimic and transfer as close as possible to either the snatch or jerk.
- Promoting muscular development, shoulder stabilization, and enhancing total body awareness while pressing or stabilizing.
- To simultaneously train large muscle groups safely and effectively using moderate to heavy loading and volume.
Two Issues to Consider When Doing Supplemental Exercises for Olympic Weightlifting
For those practicing the Snatch and Clean + Jerk, there are two main issues to conquer:
- Having proficient technique regardless of the weight on the bar, and
- Obtaining the highest 1-rep max possible.
Of course, the classical lifts are important but even the most elite lifters use supplemental accessory exercises to save their bodies.
Nothing tears down your body like the full classical lifts.
To give you an overall picture of how professional athletes really train, let’s take a look at how it’s done at the Olympic training center.
How Olympian Weightlifters Train
In a basic twelve-week training cycle, the weightlifters at the Olympic training center have 108 workouts.
Of the 108 workouts, 36 of those are some variation of the snatch and clean and jerk.
To break it down even more, 12 of those workouts are actually the classical lifts done from the floor.
Here are some exercises the resident team at the OTC perform to improve their classical lifts.
Supplemental Exercises for Olympic Weightlifting: Block Work
Not many gyms in America have blocks to lift from, but it is a growing trend in the US.
At the center, they spend 8-9 weeks of a training cycle lifting from blocks.
Lifting heavy weights from the floor is really hard on your body.
Snatching or cleaning from the blocks eliminates the added stress of pulling weights from the floor.
It’s also important to isolate areas of your pull where you might need a little extra work.
This can mean working on speed in the final pull or pulling the bar past your knees.
They also do a lot of combination lifts from the blocks.
For example, you can add in a snatch or clean pull before each lift.
The pull before the lift enables you to focus on a correct movement pattern of the bar without going overhead or completing the entire lift.
Supplemental Exercises for Olympic Weightlifting: Jerk Footwork
Another focus of their training is working on footwork for the jerk.
Overhead strength can be gained by a variety of overhead exercises, but footwork is just as important.
In the jerk, the feet need to be trained in weightlifting just like any other muscle.
To help train the feet, some favorites are “jump to split” and “press in split.”
Jump to split: you start with the barbell on your back as if you were doing a back squat, then you jump your feet into a jerk stance without going overhead.
This a is great movement for a few different reasons.
- It helps train you to have quick feet getting to your split jerk position.
- Helps improve your balance and stability with heavy weights in the jerk position.
Because the weight is on your back and not overhead, you can work up to heavier loads than you can normally get over your head.
Most importantly, you have the benefit of the split jerk while saving your shoulders from too much stress.
Supplemental Exercises for Olympic Weightlifting: Pressing in the Split Position
This is a well-rounded exercise that is helpful with overhead strength and balance.
Start in your split jerk position, grasp the barbell with a clean grip, and strict press the bar overhead.
The benefits of this movement are similar to the jump to split, except you are adding a pressing element that helps with overhead strength and stability.
This will also help with overall balance in the jerk.
Supplemental Exercises for Olympic Weightlifting: Squats and Presses
The second priority is overhead strengthening.
Getting the weight overhead is the goal, but your shoulder strength only improves so much by doing the lifts.
Sotts press and single arm dumbbell pressing are done constantly to improve overhead stability.
A great exercise for working on overhead strength in the snatch is snatch grip push press.
The more your push pressing ability increases, the better you are able to snatch heavier weights.
Building Strength Through Supplemental Exercises for Olympic Weightlifting
For those of us who don’t have access to the Olympic Training Center or the extreme goals of an Olympic athlete, here are some supplemental exercises that can be done at a regular gym.
Supplemental exercises still need to fall into three categories: Squatting, Pulling and Overhead movement.
These three categories are referred to as the Power Assistance Exercises by USA Weightlifting.
When training the exercises in these three categories should be completed during cycles with heavier loads.
By gaining strength, stability, and coordination in these three categories you will obtain increased strength and power in your lifts.
By breaking apart the lifts and working on certain segments, one at a time, you can improve those areas.
You can’t Snatch something if you can’t get it off the floor, which is pulling.
You definitely can’t complete the lift if you can’t stand up, that’s when squatting comes in.
If you can’t hold the weight the required amount of time then what was the point of lifting?
This is when you need the Overhead.
Supplemental Exercises for Olympic Weightlifting: Squatting
In addition to the classical lifts, the main focus in training is squats.
Weightlifters front and back squat constantly.
Therefore leg strength is one of the most essential factors in weightlifting.
It’s not just the traditional front and back squats, supplemental exercises like rack squats and split squats need to be done to gain leg strength.
A specialized Olympic weightlifter squats 4-5 times a week with heavy loads past parallel.
If you aren’t squatting past parallel, then that isn’t enough.
The more you squat, the stronger your Snatch and Clean + Jerk will be.
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The Front Squat
The Front Squat translates the best into the Clean.
The bar is placed exactly where it should be when you receive the bar during the lift.
Your center of gravity is the same and your position should be exactly the same.
When you squat with your feet outside your hips, then your feet should be in the same position when you work front squats.
It all leads from one thing to the next.
You have to be able to Front Squat a weight if you ever want to Clean it and most people Front Squat much more than they can lift.
That’s exactly what you want.
The more you Front Squat the more you can stand up with at the bottom of a lift.
The Back Squat
With the Back Squat, you might question where the bar should be placed on the back.
Should it be low on the shoulder blades or high on the traps?
Truthfully, the bar should be high on your back.
This is known as the high-bar back squat.
Placing the bar here translates better for both lifts because the athlete’s torso is vertical as much as possible rather than bent over the quads.
When doing exercises that mimic movements in the lifts you want your torso upright when you receive the bar.
If you are building strength in any other position, it won’t help you with the lifts.
It doesn’t make any sense to try to receive the bar while bent over.
With your center of gravity now positioned more behind you, it will be easier to stay on your heels and keep your chest up during the Back Squat rather than the Front Squat.
This will make maintaining your stability that much easier for heavier lifts.
So expect to Back Squat more than you Front Squat.
Single Leg Squats and Pause Squats
Single Leg Squats and Pause Squats are also very beneficial variations of squat movements that can be added to a weekly program.
This is especially true of Pause Squats.
These are a big help when the athlete completes either a Front Squat or Back Squat.
Then you pause at the bottom and hold the squat before coming back up.
These squats will really help build strength if you have to sit at the bottom of a Clean or Snatch to stabilize and then stand up.
Now we need to focus on developing the power (i.e. Speed) needed to actually do something with that strength.
The terms “Strength” and “Power” have different meanings even though they are often seen as interchangeable.
“Power” includes speed and velocity.
Picking up a heavy object is a matter of strength.
But picking up that same object quickly requires power.
In Olympic weightlifting you want to be stronger so you are more powerful.
In order to maximize strength with power you must devote time and effort to the pulling segments of the lifts.
That’s when you pick the bar off the ground, get it past your knees, and get it up high enough so you can drop under it.
The pulling part is where you have to apply maximum force and power to the bar so that you are able to receive it.
Improving your First Pull
To improve your first pull you practice regular pulls with either the Clean or Snatch grip.
This is when you are performing only the initial segment of the lift from the ground.
You aren’t pulling the bar up past this point and are keeping your arms straight throughout.
There should be only a slight bend at the very end when you hit the power position.
Perform your regular pulls with heavy loads – 105% – 110% of your target weight.
Remember you need to pick the bar off the ground with speed and transition into the power position to “clean” your target weight.
Just doing deadlifts or RDLs (Romanian Deadlifts) won’t help you improve the lifts as much.
Those are strength development pulling movements, which you also need, but pulls will help you improve power production.
Improving your Second Pull
Your second pull is from the power position to your highest point before you transition under the bar.
This is where high pulls for either the Snatch or Clean grip will be the most helpful.
Practice getting the bar all the way to the full extension and following through with your arms pulling that bar all the way to your chest.
This is how you will build power and strength in that part of the movement.
Lifters also like to keep the bar close at the top of an extension so they can feel the weight better.
Traditionally, high pulls use about 75% of your target weight and the bar should reach your chest or even higher.
The 2nd pull of the Snatch and Clean + Jerk (triple extension) can see improvement from the use of other pulling movements such as RDLs.
Other exercises that develop the athlete’s speed from the ground into the extension would also be beneficial.
This will help work the body’s ability to not only move weight vertically but also quickly.
Supplemental Exercises for Olympic Weightlifting: Overhead
We can’t focus on leg strength or body speed without working on what can be considered the final goal–holding the weight overhead.
After all, that’s the idea of both Oly lifts.
A Snatch or Clean + Jerk is complete when the barbell is fully overhead while locking out your arms.
So the third and final assistance exercise category should be developing overhead strength.
Working on overhead strength while standing is better than when sitting or in a machine.
Sitting on a bench may increase isolated strength but it won’t involve everything else happening in your body during an Oly lift.
Standing tall mimics the Snatch and Jerk and forces you to master stability and core functionality.
Strict Press, Push Press, Power Jerks, Push Jerks, Split Jerks and Overhead Squats, and any other heavy upper body movement, must be part of the weekly training.
It’s important that the end position of any Overhead Assistance Exercise has your arms completely straight.
You should also center the barbell over the back of your head.
You are most stable with the bar at center over you, that’s why the bar should be behind your head.
Also, remember, full range of motion is critical.
Working these Overhead movements will help to not only build your strength but improve that mobility.
Final Thoughts on Supplemental Exercises for Olympic Weightlifting
Accessory exercises play an important role in the overall development and health of a lifter.
Coaches and athletes should incorporate certain exercises into training programs to address imbalances, muscular weaknesses, and or enhance current abilities.
Also, always remember to practice core exercises to help facilitate all of your Olympic lifts and supplemental exercises for Olympic weightlifting.
Below: Watch How 4 Core Exercises Can Help Your Olympic Lifts