7 secrets of Olympic Lifts

Piotr Leniart

Olympic lifts are awesome. Most trainees would certainly agree. However, not many lifters are using them for the primary purpose of improving their physiques. This is a mistake, and as you’ll see, costing them some serious growth potential. Here are seven reasons why even the most abs and pecs-focused lifter should incorporate the Olympic lifts.


The squat is the basis for the clean.

Some of the best legs on the planet belong to some very successful weightlifters. In case you’re not aware, the front squat is the foundation of a good clean. So if you clean 140 kilograms, what do you think your quads would look like?

Put the leg extensions on hold for a while and try full cleans for 5 sets of 4. Then tell me what puts on more muscle!

Monster traps

As a strength and conditioning coach, I always told to rugby players, “If you want to protect your neck, get rid of it.” Our preferred method of training was the clean pull.

I was amazed to see guys in the gym blasting away at their traps with very heavy shrugs, often four or five plates per side, yet with no increase in trap size.

If you want the traps of a Big Tighthead Prop, you need to train like one. Put the shrugs away for the next eight weeks, add in some clean pulls, and watch your neck vanish before your eyes. Be sure to emphasize the top portion of the lift.

Recommended training hooks
Recommended training hooks

The key to this method of trap development is the movement speed and rate of force development in the clean pull. The speed causes an insane amount of muscle activation and types 2 fibre growth, leading to traps so big they restrict hearing.

Hooks

Most guys think the first thing a woman notices about a man is his pecs or bulging biceps. Wrong, my friends. The first muscle a woman notices is a man’s left forearm – because she just checked out your ring finger. Now that you’re in the clear, you better be showing off a Popeye-inspired forearm.

To get massive forearms, park the wrist curls next to the soy milk and cable crunches. Snatches or cleans will add serious real estate to your lower arms while developing the kind of grip strength that would get the thumbs-up from Thor himself.

Performing the Olympic lifts – without straps – will have you mitts working overtime, and your forearms will flourish as you learn to pull from the floor and then transition your body under the bar. Expect to see a set of meat hooks hanging out of your sweatshirt in no time.

Type 2 muscle fiber recruitment.

We know that to achieve maximum size, the type 2 muscle fiber must be trained. However, traditional bodybuilding programming often fails to sufficiently stimulate this important fiber type. Sure, some bodybuilders hit the type 2 fiber by working on maximum strength, but what about maximum speed?

Doing cleans teaches the body to move weight fast. This leads to increases in force production, and more force production means more type 2 fiber being recruited. More type 2 fiber recruitment equals bigger, stronger, denser, and fuller muscle bellies.

Physique balance.

Any successful person, whether they’re running a fortune company or competing at the Olympics, will tell you that the key is a balance. A physique athlete needs balance too, or symmetry. While a freak show set of biceps or quads is cool, bodybuilding judges will tell you it’s not ideal to look like a compilation of body parts.

Full-body movements such as the snatch provide the body an opportunity to act as the unit it’s intended to be. If you can’t hold a bar overhead in the full squat position, you’ll quickly learn where you’re strong, where you’re weak, where you’re tight, and where you need to improve. There’s a reason coaches use the overhead squat as an assessment tool – it provides a whole-body view of symmetry.

The initial pull is all gluteus and hamstrings

This list wouldn’t be complete without mention of the posterior chain, the powerful musculature along your backside that can make or break bodybuilding success.

Misguided bodybuilders often toil away at various leg curl machines in hopes this will be enough to build massive glutes and hamstrings.

The snatch and power clean are perfect posterior chain developers. They’re explosive lifts that can be loaded significantly and they start with all that weight on the floor – meaning you’re going to need massive glutes and hamstrings just to get the bar moving.

Mobility and stability

Every day, someone walks through the door exhibiting a severe imbalance (not just mentally, but physically as well).

But never my Olympic weightlifters. The reason is, to be successful at completing the lifts, you have to have a great amount of stability and mobility in the necessary places. Good technique requires good positioning, which requires stability and mobility (and practice).

For physique athlete just starting out with the lifts and moving minimal weight, you’ll soon start obtaining some serious mobility. This is going to help you stay healthier longer while increasing the amount of muscle you can activate. More activation means more muscle!

As a physique athlete you don’t have to stop your current program to delve into an Olympic weightlifting program. Incorporating the lifts, or even part of the lifts, to bring up a weakness is what it’s all about. Pick one area where lifts can help you get better, implement it properly, and enjoy the success.

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