Tailing off the last article ‘’Conditioning for Olympic Weightlifting’’, we looked at the reasons why you should be conditioning even if you’re not training for an endurance-based sport. Next, we’re going to look at some ways we can be more effective in programming conditioning for the explosive athlete.
First I want to point out that a lifter doesn’t need to be an avid long distance runner to reap the benefits of ‘’being in shape’’ with respect to their weightlifting. That being said, weightlifters tend to do about two seconds of work and sit down for three or four minutes. That’s not a problem (if it’s a big weight they just lifted). The problem is when the lifter is having trouble recovering from this effort and can’t repeat it many more times in a session.
We’ve already gone over the solution to this: improving the conditioning of the athlete. But what does this entail? How should a weightlifter’s conditioning program differ from other athletes? To answer this, we need to look into the demands of the sport.
In the case of weightlifting, a lifter does an enormous amount of work in a very little amount of time. If we look at the Snatch, Clean or Jerk by themselves, they are over in less than one second. If we look at sets of two or three reps, the total amount of time under tension could be ten seconds (and that’s pushing it).
Knowing this, weightlifters are going to primarily use the alactic energy system for energy production during the actual reps. The aerobic energy system will be responsible for replenishing the adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, stores (what the body actually uses for energy) during rest.
Compare this to CrossFitters who typically go at a very fast pace for minutes on end. These athletes will primarily use the lactic energy system to provide energy during their WODs and train at heart rates of about 165-185 beats per minute.
Lastly are the long distance runners, like marathoners. These are the people whose training is done at a heart rate of about 150-165 beats per minute. They rely primarily on the aerobic energy system for energy production during their runs.
Conditioning plays an important role in all three of these very different types of athletes. Even though these sports are very different, they all rely heavily on the aerobic energy system for performance and/or recovery. This is the energy system we are most interested in improving for the Olympic weightlifter.
Like we learned earlier, we know that a weightlifter does anywhere from one to ten seconds of work at a time. This means that for those ten seconds, the energy will be almost exclusively supplied by the alactic energy system. After the weightlifter is done with their set, the aerobic energy system is the dominant system used to replenish the ATP. This is what we want to recreate when we’re doing conditioning work.
To make conditioning work as sport-specific as possible, we want to have the lifter do ten to fifteen seconds of work at a time, similar to when they’re Snatching or Clean and Jerking. After this, we want the lifter to rest a given amount of time that challenges the recovery of the athlete, but doesn’t beat them down so much that their average heart rate is in the lactic range (about 160+ beats per minute). For an athlete that’s in pretty good shape, we might have them do fifteen seconds of work, then rest for forty-five seconds and repeat anywhere from ten to twenty times. This should keep their average heart rate in the 140 to 150 beats per minute range ensuring we’re training the aerobic energy system.
As long as an exercise can adhere to this type of training, we can get as creative as we want in our programming. Common conditioning work that we use at Lift Lab includes sleds, kettlebell swings, jumps, ropes, rower ergometer and any accessory exercises you can think of. When programming these things, I like to stick to using ‘’On the minute,’’ meaning you will have a running clock and perform one set every time the clock starts a new minute. The rest of the minute is used for rest. The emphasis is on keeping the heart rate up (but not too high) and being as explosive as possible in each set.
High Intensity Continuous Training
The other method we use to condition explosive athletes is called high intensity continuous training, or HICT.
The theory behind this type of training is that your body’s fast twitch muscles adapt to the demands of training and become more oxidative. This means they are more efficient at using the aerobic energy system to recover between intense efforts and training sessions.
HICT training has a few guidelines to follow:
Choose a single exercise that uses similar muscle groups as your respective sport (for weightlifting, we’ll focus on the legs)
Weight the exercise to an appropriate intensity (this should be something you can continue for ten to twenty minutes)
Perform reps as explosively as possible (this is important to make sure you’re primarily using fast twitch muscle fibers)
Perform reps at a pace that keeps your heart rate between 130 and 150 beats per minute (you can wear a heart rate monitor or check your pulse to calculate your heart rate every few minutes)
Continue for ten to twenty minutes
I’m going to warn you that HICT will probably be some of the most boring training you’ll ever do but it’s a good conditioning method, especially for the explosive athlete. Training the fast twitch fibers to become more oxidative can be extremely valuable in terms of reducing recovery time. As a weightlifter, if we can recover more quickly and effectively, this translates to the ability to handle higher volume, which leads to quicker progress in the Snatch and Clean and Jerk.
For a weightlifter whose main goal isn’t to achieve elite conditioning, I’ll have them go through either (or a combination) of these methods for fifteen to thirty minutes. I’ll usually have them do this two to four times per week. These variables are going to depend on what they’ve done previously in their training session, what the main emphasis of their training currently is, what kind of condition the lifter is in and what they’re able to handle.
Both of these methods are effective ways to condition anyone, not just the explosive athlete.
There are an infinite number of conditioning workouts you can come up with to put someone through, but when you’re trying to make monster athletes, specificity is key. You want everything you do to be working you towards your goal, not pushing you away from it. Try utilizing these types of conditioning in your training and decrease your recovery time!