Best Exercises to Improve Olympic Weightlifting
Updated: Nov 17, 2020
Alright, so you want to improve your Olympic weightlifting total; snatch more weight, clean more weight, jerk more weight. But with literally hundreds of exercises and variations to choose from, how do you know what the best exercises to improve your olympic weightlifting actually are? This guide is going to provide you with recommendations based on a combination of historical literature, biomechanics and coaching/training experience. Let's get started, shall we?
First Off, You Need to Understand 'Dynamic Correspondence'
'Dynamic correspondence' is best described as the 'transfer effect,' or the degree to which the benefits of one exercise carry over to another. Typically, exercises that have the best dynamic correspondence are specific in some way (movement type, joint angles, force production, muscles used etc) to the movement that we're trying to improve. So for weightlifting, you can probably conclude that long-distance running likely has a non-existent dynamic correspondence, whereas a power snatch likely has a strong dynamic correspondence.
Understanding Dynamic Correspondence Prevents You Doing This Sort of Nonsense
What Does this Actually Have to Do With Picking the Best Exercises to Improve Weightlifting Performance?
Essentially, we want the majority of our training to be comprised of exercises that have a high dynamic correspondence. This means that everything we do positively impacts our weightlifting total to a noticeable degree. Okay, But How Do We Know Which Exercises Have a High Correspondence/Carryover? The good news is that a lot of this work has been done for us by Medvedev, who as Head Coach of the Soviet Weightlifting team in the 1960's collected a ridiculous amount of data on thousands of athletes, which you can look at for yourself if you fancy an extremely dull read of 'System of Multi-Year Training in Weightlifting and 'A Program of Multi-Year Training in Weightlifting'. Now, whilst this data should obviously be taken with a heavy pinch of anabolic salt, it does serve as a fantastic basis for us to work from. Exercises like snatches, cleans, jerks, power snatches, power cleans and power jerks are given high priority, as are hang snatches and hang cleans. Pulls and squats are also frequently included and recommended, although the volume and intensity prescriptions most certainly need adjusting for non-drug-using lifters. So in short, the majority of a weightlifter's training should comprise of...
Snatches and close variations
Cleans and close variations
Jerks and close variations
And this is evidenced in the programming of almost every respectable and halfway successful weightlifting coach, as well as by the training of most elite lifters...
Seb's fantastic coverage of lifters from around the world highlights similarities in exercise selection
How Much of Each Exercise Type Should I Do to Improve My Weightlifting? This is where most articles you'll find online will simply say, "do this and you'll be a better weightlifter." The problem with that is that I don't know enough about you as an individual to give specific recommendations. What I can do is provide 3 general categories of weightlifter that you could fall into, with general recommendations for each category.
1) Great Technique But Generally Quite Weak If you're someone who tends to be very analytical and diligent with their technical practice, but who struggles to build strength and typically struggles more with their clean than their snatch, then this is probably the category for you.
For you, it might make sense to dedicate less training time to weightlifting specific variations, and more time to general strength development through heavier pulls and squats. 2) Great General Strength But Poor Technique If you're someone whose squat and deadlift is significantly better than their snatch and clean, this is probably you. Usually, you'll be coming into weightlifting from a strongman or powerlifting background. For you, it would make more sense to dedicate less time to general strength training, and more time towards snatches, cleans and close variations. 3) The All-Rounder If your technique is decent but not perfect and you're sort of strong, then this is probably the category for you. Usually, you'll be coming from a CrossFit background, so you've had some exposure to weightlifting but still need to refine your technique, and you've had some exposure to strength training, but still need to keep getting stronger. For you, the best approach will be to keep everything well balanced, splitting your training time evenly between snatches, cleans, jerks, squats and pulls. Are There Any Situations in Which These Exercises Are Not the Best to Improve Your Weightlifting? Realistically speaking, the only reason to divert from the exercises I've outlined above is due to injury or pain. If you physically cannot do squats because they hurt your hip or your knees, then they are not the best choice at that point in time.
However, your goal is always to recover, become pain-free and get back to performing the exercises that offer you the best chances of improving your weightlifting total. . That's it for today. Stick to the exercises proven to work over time, and decide how much of them you're going to do by identifying which category of lifter you fall into. And as always, if you're looking for a coach to help you with your programming and exercise selection for weightlifting, you can book a call with me by clicking here. 'Til Next Time Alex
MSc Strength & Conditioning
British Weightlifting Tutor/Educator