The Best Types of Conditioning Work for Weightlifters

Olympic weightlifting and conditioning aren’t generally two words you would find in the same sentence, but an appropriate level of conditioning can actually be beneficial to your overall training and performance. Let me use the following to explain.

1. Why do conditioning work for weightlifters?

Being in better shape as a weightlifter means you can train longer in any given session. It also means you can maintain a higher volume and load throughout the duration of that session. Also, if you are in better shape, you will more than likely hold better technique throughout those loads. And finally, you will recover faster after your training sessions, allowing you the ability to add multiple training sessions in the same day.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you have two competitors of equal ability and one can endure higher training loads and volumes for a longer period of time and more frequently, they will improve at a more advanced rate than the other.

2. Relevance for competition performance

As a weightlifter, the ability to recover faster and handle more volume will benefit you in training, but also on competition day. If you do happen to miss a lift, and have to repeat on a 2 minute clock, your ability to recover and refocus in that time period will benefit you. Or, if you just happen to follow yourself after a made attempt, your coach can also stretch that clock so far. If you have the ability to recover faster, it will leave you in a better position for that next attempt.

3. Defining energy systems

A snatch or clean and jerk takes just a few seconds. At most, you will be under a load for 10 seconds. This means that the energy used for completing these lifts comes from the alactic anaerobic energy system. Shape Sense defines the alactic energy system as the “first one recruited for exercise and it is the dominant source of muscle energy for high intensity explosive exercise that lasts for 10 seconds or less. For example, the alactic anaerobic energy system would be the main energy source for a 100m sprint, or a short set of a weightlifting exercise.” Weightlifters will tap into the aerobic energy system for restoring ATP (adenosine triphosphate) during their rest. CrossFitters working for a few minutes will primarily use the lactate anaerobic system for energy production, while a marathon runner will use aerobic.

The lactic anaerobic system is defined as the “dominant source of muscle energy for high intensity exercise activities that last up to approximately 90 seconds. For example, it would be the main energy contributor in an 800m sprint, or a single shift in ice hockey,” while Shape Sense defines the aerobic energy system as the energy source for activities lasting longer than 5 minutes.

4. Types of weightlifting conditioning

What this means for weightlifters is that any conditioning work being done should mimic the energy system necessary for optimal performance. You could do things such as on the minute (OTM) training or simply sets with limited or timed rest periods to mimic a competition setting. This will also force the athlete to have attempts taken while under some fatigue. This could help an experienced athlete learn to call on good technique even while under some stress and hopefully allow it to transfer in competition. Be careful using this with beginners.

In the early stages of learning the Olympic lifts (as well as the later) the focus should always be on proper movement patterns. If the athlete is too fatigued to move properly this type of conditioning would do more harm than good.

I personally like to use timed rest the closer I get to competition. I feel like it prepares me both mentally and physically for the challenges associated with following yourself in competition or having to repeat on a 2 minute clock. It requires not only physical preparation, but also the mental preparation to regroup in a short period of time and either make a correction, or attempt a heavier weight. he more experience and preparation you have in advance, the easier this skill becomes.

Another form of conditioning that some coaches will call on is some type of complex in weightlifting training. There are a million variations of exercises that could be performed in a complex format so the combinations are totally up to you are a coach. Complexes are still very sport specific, but also allow the athlete to battle for the correct positions as well as challenge themselves week to week.

In addition to on the minute training and complexes, you could do interval training involving 10-15 seconds of work with 30 seconds – 1 minute of rest. This could be sprint training or sled pushes. You can get as creative as you want with the work being done, but ideally, it should equal at 1:3 work to rest ration, and this work should never move the athlete into the lactic range.

Most importantly, use conditioning to help yourself or your athlete improve efficiency. There will be a point of diminish and return if overdone, and remember the end goal is to gain strength and efficiency in the Olympic lifts. If the conditioning is too much for the athlete to recover from or moves them to the point that they lose form, than it is no longer serving its purpose.

Featured image: @mattiecakesssss on Instagram

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Note: THE PROGRM Coach and BarBend Reader John Singleton had this to say after reading the above piece:

“Any conditioning work being done should mimic the energy system necessary for optimal performance.” — which is a good concept, however it should also be noted that improved aerobic fitness/capacity has been shown to have a beneficial effect on improving your ability to recover (Tomlin, D.L. & Wenger, H.A. Sports Med (2001) 31: 1). Therefore some conditioning work done outside of the realm of the anaerobic systems may be beneficial.

All in all it is an interesting concept being discussed and probably a concept that strength biased athletes should consider to help improve performance.