How Any Kind of Athlete Can Incorporate Olympic Weightlifting and Powerlifting

You are an aspiring athlete in a non-strength based sport. Like most athletes who get started in the weight room, your strength and conditioning programs are dominated by the big three powerlifting movements and basic barbell lifts (Duehring et. al 2009). You’ve developed a solid understanding of powerlifting methodology and gained a lot of strength, but your athleticism is still lacking.

There is a lot of buzz surrounding Olympic weightlifting for athletic development, and you know you’ve just found the missing link to your training. But how do you get started? If you adopt an Olympic weightlifting training plan, does that mean all of your powerlifting methodology gets tossed aside? Can these two strength and power training disciplines coexist? The answer is an emphatic yes, and professional strength and conditioning coaches have been successfully integrating powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting methodology for ages.

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.

When you need to build strength, logic will guide you to adopt a powerlifting program since they are the strongest athletes in the world. When you need power, an Olympic weightlifting training program is a no-brainer. However if you need both attributes, you cannot haphazardly cherry-pick and combine what you like from each program and expect outstanding results.

If that mistake is made, you don’t end up performing either program. Rather you are left with some poor hybrid of the two, since you’ve altered the integrity of each plan. Integrating the two disciplines successfully requires the use of both science and practice to properly manipulate key program design variables such as training frequency, exercise selection, and exercise order (Baechle & Earle 2008. pg. 382).

Training Frequency

Weight training frequency for an athlete can range between one to four sessions per week depending on the sport, phase of training, and time of year (Reynolds et. al. 2012). This article will focus on a 3 and 4 session per week training split because if you are here at BarBend, you probably love to lift. Lifting 3 to 4 times per week is a very common training frequency in many sports, since it still allows for 3 to 4 days of either sport specific conditioning or rest.

[And then? Consider these 12 ways to maximize your rest day.]

Lifting any more frequently than this is likely coming at the expense of inadequate recovery or insufficient sport specific conditioning. In a non-strength based sport, you don’t win a starting job by having the best 1-rep-max, so don’t forget to leave time and energy in your weekly training plan to devote to sports skills and conditioning.

Exercise Selection

There is never enough room in a weekly training plan to do every useful exercise, so selecting movements that give you the most bang for your buck is critical. The short list of exercises to develop strength and power is easy: the squat, bench press, and deadlift for strength; and snatch, clean, and jerk for power. Beyond finding a home in your training plan for those six movements, both powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting offer many great main-lift derivatives to round out your accessory work (Baechle & Earle 2008. pg. 386).

How Should You Order Your Exercises?

Exercises can be ordered in many different ways depending on the objective of the movements and needs of a sport, however creating an appropriate exercise order generally centers on how one exercise affects the quality of effort or the technique of another exercise.

The snatch, clean, and jerk require high velocities, and excellent technique to complete (Garhammer 1980). These attributes are the most sensitive to fatigue, and thus need to be performed at the onset of a training session when an athlete has the most energy and ability to concentrate (Baechle & Earle 2008. pg. 386). The strength exercises (squat, bench press, and deadlift) require maximal force capabilities that can result in a significant energy expenditure (Robergs et. al. 2007). To ensure an athlete performs optimally in these movements they should immediately follow the Olympic weightlifting movements in the program. Main-lift derivatives that occupy a supplemental role in the training plan can conclude a training session when energy levels of the athlete are lowest.

But it is an incomplete analysis to only consider fatigue as it occurs in a single training session when arranging exercises in a program. Not only is energy depleted within a training session, but there are also energy decrements throughout a training week (Dawson et. al 2005). Assuming an athlete gets the bulk of their training completed during the work week, and gets more recovery on the weekends, performance will be best early in the training week and diminish as the week goes on. The exercises or attributes that an athlete needs to most improve upon should be scheduled early in a training week to optimize performance.

2 Sample Workouts

These sample templates apply many of the same training principles in their design. Both templates place the Olympic lifts at the beginning of training sessions to ensure power output and technical focus is not masked by fatigue from a preceding exercise. The execution of the snatch requires greater speed than the clean and jerk, and thus ideally is scheduled early in the training week to optimize speed and power (Garhammer 1980).

Powerlifting exercises either immediately follow the Olympic lifts, or in the case of the 4x per week training template, can be scheduled as the first exercise in a training session when there’s no weightlifting on the docket. The Olympic lifts are generally programmed using a low training volume and few repetitions per set that should have minimal deleterious effects on the performance of the powerlifting exercises (Hartmann et. al. 2015).

In fact, the high power outputs generated in the Olympic lifts may actually potentiate improved performance in the powerlifting movements (Gilbert et. al. 2005). All accessory and core training is programmed after the Olympic lifts and powerlifting exercises are completed within training sessions, since they may only serve a marginal role in strength and power development (Baechle & Earle 2008. pg. 391).

The 3x per week training template utilizes both upper and lower body accessory exercises within each session, since training sessions are not scheduled on consecutive days. The 4x per week training template groups upper body accessory exercises with the Olympic lifts, and lower body accessory work with the lower body intensive powerlifting exercises.

Training sessions are organized in this manner to optimize recovery and performance when training sessions are scheduled on consecutive days. Collectively, the Olympic lifts and powerlifting exercises require heavy axial loading that is very demanding to the core (Hamlyn et. al. 2007). To ensure the core is rested and prepared for these movements, core-specific strength training is reserved for the end of a training session.

Wrapping Up

It is not difficult to appropriately combine Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting exercises in a training program if you obey the simple principles that govern program design. As an athlete, you have to utilize both disciplines of training if you want to holistically optimize performance. It is unacceptable to be strong and slow or fast and weak. Choose to be strong and fast by integrating Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting exercises in your training program.

References

Baechle, T. R., & Earle, R. W. (2008). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. 3rd ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. pg. 382-391

Dawson, S. Cow, S. Modra, D. Bishop, G. Stewart. Effects of immediate post-game recovery procedures on muscle soreness, power and flexiblity levels over the next 48 hours. J Sci Med Sport. 2005 Jun; 8(2): 210–221.

Duehring, MD, Feldmann, CR, and Ebben, WP. Strength and conditioning practices of United States high school strength and conditioning coaches. J Strength Cond Res 23: 2188–2203, 2009.

Garhammer, J. (1980). Power production by Olympic weightlifters. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 12(1), 54.

Gilbert, G and Lees, A. Changes in the force development characteristics of muscle following repeated maximum force and power exercise. Ergonomics 48: 1576-1584, 2005.

Hamlyn, Nicolle; Behm, David G; Young, Warren B. Trunk muscle activation during dynamic weight-training exercises and isometric instability activities. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research; Champaign Vol. 21, Iss. 4,  (Nov 2007): 1108-12.

Hartmann, H., Wirth, K., Keiner, M. et al. Short-term Periodization Models: Effects on Strength and Speed-strength Performance. Sports Med (2015) 45

Reynolds, Monica L; Ransdell, Lynda B; Lucas, Shelley M; Petlichkoff, Linda M; Gao, Yong Less. An examination of current practices and gender differences in strength and conditioning in a sample of varsity high school athletic programs. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 26(1):174-183, January 2012.

Robergs, Robert A; Toryanno Gordon; Reynolds, Jeff; Walker, Thomas B. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research; Champaign Vol. 21, Iss. 1.  (Feb 2007): 123-30.

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