Too Much Strength Work? | Olympic Weightlifting Programming Mistakes Lecture 3
Olympic weightlifting is a tricky sport. You can be strong as an oxe, but still really struggle to snatch, clean or jerk decent weights. In this article, we'll be looking at how much strength work is too much within the context of a weightlifting programme. We'll cover:
This article is also available in video form if you prefer...
What Do We Mean By Strength Work in Weightlifting?
Within the context of olympic weightlifting training, I say strength work to refer to general strength exercises such as...
Essentially the exercises that develop your ability to generate maximal forces.
Why is Too Much Strength Work a Problem In Weightlifting?
For a sport that requires lifting heavy weights, saying that you can do too much strength work sounds backwards, but hear me out. Yes, weightlifting absolutely requires strength, but that’s only one part of the equation. Weightlifting also requires power, ‘special strength’ / positional strength, plus good weight distribution, posture and bar trajectory throughout the lift.
And if you spend way too much training time and energy on general strength exercises, you simply won’t have the time and energy to train these other qualities.
So you can end up really strong, but still really bad at weightlifting, and this is something that I've seen happen time and time again.
The Myth of ‘Just Get Stronger’ for Weightlifting
The idea that you can improve at olympic weightlifting has been around for years, and has misled a lot of people. The myth has largely been propagated and spread in the US by Mark Rippetoe (starting strength) and Louie Simmons (Westside Barbell)
Rippetoe has famously said that:
“Your snatch is ½ your deadlift”
But if that was the case the Lasha, arguably the best weightlifter in the world, should deadlift around 460kg. And yet the most we’ve seen him do is 310kg. Weird!
Louie Simmons has said repeatedly that:
“the problem with almost all US weightlifters is that they aren’t strong enough”
But this just doesn’t hold up in the literature, it isn’t supported by any prominent weightlifting coaches, and it just plain old doesn’t make sense.
Put it this way, how many people can deadlift and squat 200 or even 250+kg? Thousands upon thousands. But how many of those people can clean even 180+kg? Almost none. They’re all strong enough to lift the weight, so why can’t they clean it?
Because strength isn’t always the solution!
If all you have is a hammer, every starts to look like a nail, and it becomes very obvious that both Rippetoe and Simmons know very little about olympic style weightlifting, despite having very strong opinions about it.
As Weightlifting coach Greg Everett beautifully put it: "Coaching weightlifting is such an easy thing to do when you don't have to actually do it."
How Much Strength Work is Too Much for Weightlifters?
It depends on your own balance of technical proficiency versus strength. But in a balanced weightlifting programme strength work should take up no more than 50% of your time.
As a rule of thumb, your strength work should be enough to increase your squat, pull and overhead strength over time, whilst minimally interfering with your weightlifting movements (snatch, clean and jerk)
If you’re unable to perform the weightlifting movements at least 2-3 times per week with decent volumes and intensity, you’re doing too much strength work.
Practical Recommendations for Weightlifting Strength Work
Start by assessing your lifting ratios, a good clean & jerk is typically 85-90% of your max front squat. Whilst a good snatch is typically 78-84% of your clean & jerk
If your weightlifting numbers are in these ranges, great, you’re technically proficient and can dedicate more time to building strength. (2-3 overloading strength sessions per week)
If your weightlifting numbers are below these ranges, then you’ve got technical work to do and should spend more time with that. (So you might only do 1 overloading strength workout per week)
Now, these are just estimates. The exact numbers will vary from person to person, so you shouldn’t treat them as gospel or live or die by them. They’re just a good guide as to where your training time should be spent.
Frequently Asked Strength & Weightlifting Questions
Does General Strength help with Olympic Weightlifting?
Absolutely, the best lifters in the world all have incredibly strong squats, deadlifts, pulls and push presses. However, as we've discussed above, there is an upper limit to how much strength work can benefit a given lifter.
Can I Become a good weightlifter without strength exercises?
Honestly, no. Even the Bulgarians under abadjiev who snatched and cleaned to max every day still included regular maximal squatting. There's just no way to reach your full potential without at least some strength work as part of your training.
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'Til Next Time
Alex Parry, MSc
Alex's experience includes 7+ years within professional strength and conditioning, as well as working as a tutor & educator for British Weightlifting.