Pose a powerlifting versus weightlifting question on social media, and you’ll likely never see the end of the comments section.
But followers of the Super Total training method would ask, “Why not both?”
Super Total training combines the five main lifts from both powerlifting (squat, bench, and deadlift) and weightlifting (snatch and clean & jerk). Super Total athletes can compete either at Super Total competitions for a one-meet, five-lift total, or compete in powerlifting and weightlifting separately and combine these scores for a Super Total.
Travis Mash of Mash Elite Performance has known of, coached, and even promoted Super Total training for decades. With a background of coaching and competing in elite powerlifting and weightlifting, Mash has an eye for what both methods can bring to a strength athlete.
We asked Mash to give us a rundown of this training method and tips of the trade for getting started, no matter which world you come from.
The History of the Super Total
Mash recalled first reading about the Super Total in a 1994 issue of Powerlifting USA featuring phenom Jon Cole, who boasted a 350 kg/770 lb weightlifting total, a 1,075 kg/2,364 lb powerlifting total, and a 1,425/3,135 lb Super Total. Cole was also known for his speed, agility, and power output as a multi-sport strength athlete.
“That’s why I love the Super Total so much,” Mash said. “It really does separate out the total strength athlete from all the rest.”
Mash explained some athletes may possess incredible raw strength but lack the power output and flexibility needed to be a top-level weightlifter.
“I mean, is there anything on earth more amazing than watching the six-foot-seven Lasha Talakhadze perform a 220kg snatch with the grace of a ballet dancer?” Mash asked, then answered his own question: “I think not.”
On the flip side, Mash noted he has coached weightlifters who were mediocre at best when it came to generating absolute strength in less dynamic movements like squats and deadlifts and had “poverty” bench and military presses.
The Super Total, Mash said, produces holistic strength athletes.
“You get to see a man or woman that is truly amazing in terms of strength, power production, rate of force production, and movement,” Mash said. “It’s incredible to watch, like nothing else in the world of strength.”
So Why Isn’t Everyone Training the Super Total?
While the ultimate goal in both powerlifting and weightlifting is to lift the most weight possible in your weight class, the paths to do so in each sport differ.
Mash explained in weightlifting, strength is important, but these athletes are also faced with variables of timing, balance, coordination and flexibility to catch these dynamic lifts. In powerlifting, he countered, lifters need the raw strength and stability to move weights from point A to point B.
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“What’s good for one isn’t necessarily good for the other,” Mash said.
Athletes who are truly looking to master one method over another and max out often may not be a great fit for Super Total training. Mash also cautioned it’s critical to assess current range of motion, especially for powerlifters who want to add the “fast lifts” to a training regimen.
“The snatch and clean & jerk are recipes of destruction for athletes with limited range of motion,” Mash said. “When you mix high velocity with limited range of motion, you can almost guarantee an injury.”
Weightlifters likely already deadlift and squat as part of training for snatching and cleaning. For these athletes, progressing to the Super Total usually just involves the addition of the bench press. While Super Total training isn’t about dominating one lift over another, all five lifts can progress concurrently when done right.
A Symbiotic Lifting Relationship? Yep, Because Physics.
The power in powerlifting is a result of force multiplied by velocity. Generally, there’s a lot more force than velocity in this side of training. That’s why absolute strength is so critical to this sport.
Power is also important in weightlifting, but velocity plays a much bigger role in the equation. Force from driving off the ground accelerates the barbell, creating the high upward velocity necessary for the lifter to pull themselves under the weight.
In the Super Total, the force production from powerlifting combined with the high velocity from weightlifting complement each other to create five very powerful lifts.
“If you can only move at slow velocities, you aren’t powerful, even if you squat 800 pounds,” Mash said. “However, if you can move moderate weight at high velocities, then you have the ability to produce massive amounts of power.
“Power is the key to multiple athletic endeavors that all of us enjoy watching, like home runs in baseball, a knockout in boxing, or a huge tackle in football or rugby.”
Inertia, Brought to You by Improved Range of Motion
Mash stressed that even though powerlifters may not need to move through a full range of motion in a squat to achieve a successful competition lift, doing so can prove extremely beneficial to their overall athletic performance.
“Weightlifting requires optimal mobility in the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, and thoracic spine,” Mash said. “The ability to move unimpeded throughout space is important if you want to do anything other than powerlifting.”
Ready for more physics? Let’s talk about range of motion and its friend, inertia.
Joints moving through a complete range of motion enable inertia, the tendency for an object in motion to stay in motion. This promotes increased velocity and optimal power output, meaning a lifter can likely move more weight with less overall force. However, if a stiff hip joint prevents full range of motion, the weight meets resistance and the athlete most likely won’t hit the lifts they could if they could move more freely at the hip joint.
Pair this with the stability and grounded positions taught in powerlifting, and Super Total training can build a well-rounded athlete.
“Combining weightlifting and powerlifting is the perfect storm for maximizing range of motion, stability, and power production,” Mash said.
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How to Start Training the Super Total
For those just getting into Super Total training, Mash recommends keeping the majority of the training below max effort most of the time to not beat up the system.
While there are several ways to approach Super Total training, having a solid strategy is key. For weightlifters, usually the bench press is the only new movement to add, subbing out some strict pressing. For powerlifters adding in the snatch and clean & jerk, the learning curve may be a bit steeper for the technique work, but provided range of motion is there, one that is easily overcome with a plan in place.
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“Whatever you do, don’t crush your body on any one particular lift unless it’s planned with optimal recovery in the plan as well,” Mash said. “One crazy day will disrupt multiple days within a cycle.”
Mash recommends working to 2-3 reps short of failure 80% of the time, one rep short of failure 10-15% of the time and taking true maxes 5% of the time.
An example of a five-day training week may look like:
Back Squat (3×8 at 65%)
Snatch (3×3 at 75%)
Tempo Front Squat 1301 (5×3 at 75%)
Clean Liftoff (5×2 at 90%)
Clean Deadlift (3×3 at 90% clean)
Bench Press (3×8 at 60%)
Clean & Jerk (3×3 at 75%)
Back Squat (3×5 at 70%)
Power Snatch (4×2 at 75%)
Jerk from Blocks (6×1 at 75%)
Snatch Balance + Overhead Squat (6×1 at 75%)
Bench Press (3×5 at 70%)
Snatch-Grip Deadlift (3×4 at 70% snatch max)
Deadlift (3×5 at 70%)
Power Clean + Push Press (3×3 at 75%)
While splitting attention among five lifts may seem time consuming, Mash has coached Super Total athletes who have progressed well with 90-120 minute training sessions five days per week. And he sure loves doing it.
“In a perfect world, Super Total training is my favorite way to train,” Mash said. “I love the strength and hypertrophy that comes with powerlifting. However, I love the athleticism and power production that comes with weightlifting. A truly dominant power athlete should be able to train and progress for the Super Total.”
Featured image: USA Weightlifting
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Super Total?
A Super Total is a combination of an athlete’s best lifts across two disciplines: powerlifting and weightlifting. The Super Total combines top lifts from the back squat, bench press, deadlift, snatch, and clean & jerk.