Updated: Jan 11, 2021
Want to be a better weightlifter? One word. Conditioning.
Weightlifting isn’t a sport of unpredictability like football or baseball. In ball sports, there are theoretically an infinite number of things that can happen on the field. Training for these sports reflects that. Relative to weightlifting, ball sport athletes need to train for a number of different scenarios that they’ll encounter during competition. In weightlifting you only need to prepare for two: Snatch and Clean and Jerk.
Since there are only these two lifts, high-level athletes get extremely efficient and good at both of them. It’s the same as a football player solely focusing on his speed. If this is the only thing that he focuses on, he’s going to get significantly better. Knowing this, to get what we'd consider good, a weightlifter has to put in an inordinate amount of time only focusing on the two lifts and the qualities that improve them.
Look at the top athletes in the world of weightlifting and their training. Sure, some of their methods might not be well known, but quite a few top lifters have no problem sharing their knowledge, whether it be at any of the many Russian seminars that Klokov, Polovnikov and Ilya or guys here in the states put on. One trend that I’ve noticed among these top lifters is that they train. A lot.
These athletes are in extremely good shape and have conditioned their bodies to:
Recover between sets quickly; and
Recover between training sessions quickly;
Recovering well between sets leads to higher quality reps and a higher training volume per session. Recovering well between sessions allows for more frequent training sessions.
These all allow the athlete to have a higher volume of training while keeping their sessions at a very high quality. This is the foundation of a great weightlifter.
If a weightlifter (or any athlete for that matter) is in terrible shape, their typical training session might consist of:
If a weightlifter is in extremely good shape, their typical training session might consist of:
Snatch off blocks-4x3, 3x2
Back Squat-4x3, 3x2, 2x1
And they'll have the capacity to recover from it.
Most likely a lifter doing the latter program will generally be a more advanced lifter in terms of technique, but for a second let’s assume these two are at the same exact skill level. Who do you think will progress faster? The athlete whose body can only handle doing ten Snatches a day or the athlete whose body can handle doing thirty three Snatches a day? The answer is pretty obvious.
Note: remember more isn’t always better. In the same way we don’t want to do sets of twenty Clean and Jerks, we don’t necessarily need to keep piling on volume just because we think our athlete is in great shape. At some point we need to watch out for overuse injuries and overtraining no matter how good of condition our athlete is.
As far as methods go for improving conditioning, the sky is the limit. Just remember a few simple rules:
The adaptation of the conditioning stimulus should not interfere with the adaptations that are required to become a better weightlifter
Have a way to monitor recovery
A weightlifter doesn’t need to run a marathon, just like a marathoner doesn’t need to Clean and Jerk 200+ kilos. Do enough conditioning, but keep the end goal in mind
The lifter needs to stay efficient at their movement.
The last point warrants a bit more explanation. Think of any exercise that you haven’t done in a while. In my case, it’s long distance running. If I were to go out and run for two weeks and test my mile time twice per week, I could probably make at least a minute of improvement.
Is this because I raised my VO2 max that much in those two weeks? No, probably not. It would be because I became so much more efficient at running. Being a relatively good runner in the past, I’ve found that the body easily ‘’forgets’’ and it takes some time to become efficient again.
This same principle goes for weightlifting. You don’t want to spend so much time conditioning that you lose efficiency and progress in the Snatch and Clean and Jerk. You also need to remember that if your technique isn’t very good, no matter how good of shape you’re in, lifts are always going to be harder than they should be due to lack of technique. In this case, the approach is still the same. Get your conditioning in and hit the lifting hard.
In weightlifting as well as all other strength sports, there seems to be some sort of taboo about conditioning, whatever the method. When lifting heavy-ass weights, you might need to take three, four or five minutes rest, but this isn't how all of your training needs to be. This is the stereotypical type of training that comes to mind when people hear ‘Strength Sport’. However, the top guys know that the name of the game is recovery and if their body can’t handle an adequate amount of volume and recover from it, they’ll never reach the top.
If you want to be the best, it's not just about pushing yourself to do something for the sake of doing it. You need to have the conditioning base to recover from the high amount of stress you place on your body.
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