How to Combine Bodybuilding and Olympic Lifting

The following workouts emphasize the Olympic pulling movements (power clean & snatch), but are also set up to focus on hypertrophy and strength in the lower body in a more traditional bodybuilding split.

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The Olympic lifts provide many benefits to athletes of all kind, even bodybuilders. Not only are the Olympic lifts athletic events in themselves, but their unique performance characteristics build the type of strength, power and size that is directly transferable into everyday life. Although regular bodybuilding and strength training programs increase muscle cross sectional area and limit strength, they typically lack a strong speed component, and thus don't have the same effect on power as o-lifts do.

What Is Power and How It Is Important For Athletes

Power is simply (force x velocity) and is obviously important for athletes due to the fact that most athletic events are dominated by speed. If you're an athlete, your performance is likely limited by not just how much force you can apply, but rather how quickly you can apply that force in the movements of your sport. Powerlifting is really the only sport where maximum force is measured.

This is because sporting movements happen far too quickly for maximum force to be applied, so even though you may well be capable of bench pressing and squatting the moon, unless you can apply this force quickly a large percentage of your strength is going to be wasted.

Focusing some of your weight room time on methods that not only increase strength and force, but also the rate of force development, will enable you to better accomplish this and the result is your movements on the field of play will be accomplished with much more power. For power development the accelerative nature of the Olympic lifts are perfect for this purpose and don't think just because you're a bodybuilder that you can't benefit from this style of training as well. Increasing power output also has many advantages for bodybuilders as well.

The Olympic pulling movements, or hybrids of the clean and snatch, definitely hit the musculature in a unique way and quickly pack slabs of functional muscle on the upper back, hamstrings, glutes, and traps, muscles that often tend to be neglected and/or underdeveloped in bodybuilders. This is one good reason for bodybuilders to incorporate the o-lifts but yet another is their ability to increase muscular recruitment capabilities through neural stimulation, an area that is definitely overlooked in typical bodybuilding programs.

Most people are actually only capable of turning on or recruiting around 50% of their muscle fibers in a given task. Elite Olympic lifters and powerlifters may approach 90%, which is why in lighter weight classes in these sports, you see lifters with mind boggling size/strength ratios. The muscle recruitment figure for bodybuilders is probably closer to that of the average person due to an emphasis on hypertrophy and not strength and power. This means, even though you train hard, heavy and consistently, you might well be missing out on a significant portion of your potential growth due to an inability to tap into, or recruit, a good percentage of your muscle fibers.

Including power based training such as the Olympic lifts, which strongly emphasize speed along with strength (strength-speed), improves neural synchronization and muscular recruitment which will enable you to better use the muscle you do have. This often quickly leads to extra strength and hypertrophy and provides an entirely different stimulus to the musculature than you are likely accustomed to.

The following workouts emphasize the Olympic pulling movements (power clean and snatch), but are also set up to focus on hypertrophy and strength in the lower body in a more traditional bodybuilding split. The workouts are really quite versatile, fun, and provide a wide array of new and challenging exercises. All that is necessary to embark on the program is the ability to be able to perform a semi-decent power clean and power snatch. The program uses the "power" versions of the Olympic lifts, which simply mean when catching the bar the knees are bent in a ¼ squat position instead of a full squat position.

Mastering the full squat version of the lifts takes much more dedication and practice and the power versions provide all the benefits of muscular recruitment and power production we are after. Though the program will definitely increase your power and allow you to set personal bests in exercises such as the clean, snatch, squat, deadlift and even vertical jump, you likely will also put on a significant amount of hypertrophy as well, especially in the upper back, erectors and hamstrings.

The Program

The program is set up in a 2 workouts per week format. One workout is quadriceps based and the other workout is hip/hamstring based with the clean and snatch variations performed on both days. Upper body workouts can be inserted as wanted and needed. A good way to structure the split might be:

  • Day 1: Upper body (Chest + Back)
  • Day 2: Quad dominant lower body + Power training
  • Day 3: Off
  • Day 4: Upper body (Shoulders + Arms)
  • Day 5: Off
  • Day 6: Hip dominant lower body + Power training
  • Day 7: Off
  • Day 8: Repeat Day 1

Now for the workouts. There are 5 Separate phases to the program. Each phase is 3 weeks long with 2 workouts, A and B, per week.

Phase 1

Workout A

A1. Mid-Thigh Snatch From Hang
From upright position quickly dip the bar down to just mid-thigh level and explode up. After your lighter warm-up sets progress in weight for the first 2 sets and then keep the weight constant.

  • Week #1: 5x5
  • Week #2: 4X5
  • Week #3: 4X4

A2. Snatch Pull From Knee Level On Blocks Or Rack
Use a weight that enables you to pull the bar to the upper chest level which will be quite a bit heavier then the weight you use for the snatches. Use the same technique as the snatch and aim for full extension on each rep.

  • Week #1: 5X5
  • Week #2: 4X5
  • Week #3: 4X4

3 minute rest intervals between A1 and A2. Perform a set of snatches, rest 3 minutes, perform a set of snatch pulls, rest 3 minutes, alternating back and forth.

B1. Olympic Deadlift
Use an overhand grip, feet shoulder width apart, squat down to commence the lift, focus on a tightly arched back. Notice the 5-0-5 tempo. This is a slow tempo movement that emphasizes muscular control will hurt like crazy yet it will also stimulate lots of hypertrophy! 5 seconds down/5 seconds up.

  • Week #1: 5X6
  • Week #2: 4X5
  • Week #3: 4X4

2 minute rest intervals.

Workout B

A1. Mid Thigh Clean With Pause At Bottom
Perform a clean from the hang position. Dip the bar down to mid-thigh level and instead of exploding right back up take a 1-second pause prior to commencing each repetition.

  • Week #1: 5X5
  • Week #2: 4X5
  • Week #3: 4x4

A2. Explosive ½ Squat
(With approximately 50-75 lbs more then clean weight) 5x5, 4x5, 4x4 (2-0-X) tempo. Emphasize speed and explosion. Descend down smoothly to just above parallel and explode back up. 3-minute rest intervals between A1 and A2. Alternate between the hang cleans and explosive squats.

B1. High Bar Olympic Squat
(5-0-5 tempo) Close stance, high bar, descend rock bottom again using the slow 5-0-5 tempo as on the deadlifts in the previous workout. 5 seconds down 5 seconds up. 2 minute rest intervals.

  • Week #1: 5X6
  • Week #2: 4x5
  • Week #3: 4x4

Phase 2

Workout A

A1. Hang Snatch
As before from the hang position but this time descend down past the mid-thigh as far as you'd like before reversing the movement explosively. You will find the weights will increase vs. the proceeding phase due to the greater range of motion and better explosiveness you will have developed from operating in such a short range.

  • Week #1: 5x4
  • Week #2: 4x4
  • Week #3: 5x2

B1. Romanian Deadlift
5-0-5 tempo

  • Week #1: 5x4
  • Week #2: 4x4
  • Week #3: 5x2

Performed similar to a semi-stiff-legged deadlift. The emphasis is on keeping the shins vertical. Start form an upright position and bending the knees slightly push the hips back and the back arched letting the bar descend with vertical shins. To reverse the movement concentrate on digging the heels through the floor and back.

C1. Close Stance Arched Back Good Morning
3-0-2 tempo, with the bar in a low-bar squat position hold the chest high, take a deep breath, arch the back, bend the knees slightly and keep the head elevated, push the hips and glutes back as far as you can. Reverse direction by imagining yourself "pawing" the ground even though your feet won't actually move.

  • Week #1: 3x12
  • Week #2: 3x10
  • Week #3: 3x8

D1. One Leg Scissor Hip Extension
Lying flat on your back elevate one leg and place it on a box, bench, ball or against a wall. Now using a paw-down motion with that leg elevate yourself off the ground. Too add weight simply take a plate and hold it on your abdomen.

  • Week #1: 3x15
  • Week #2: 3x12
  • Week #3: 3x8

Workout B

A1. Hang Power Clean With Quick Dip And Drive
As before but extend the bar down to around knee level with no pause.

  • Week #1: 5x4
  • Week #2: 4x4
  • Week #3: 5x2

B1. Front Squat (5-0-5 tempo)

  • Week #1: 5x4
  • Week #2: 4x4
  • Week #3: 5x2

C1. Low Pulley Split Squat Lunge
Set a bench behind a low pulley and get into a lunge position with your back leg elevated on the bench. Whatever foot is forward take the opposite hand and grab the low pulley and do split lunges. Use a 2-1-1 tempo.

  • Week #1: 3x20
  • Week #2: 3x15
  • Week #3: 3x12

D1. One-Legged Squat

  • Week #1 (3 x bodyweight x max reps)
  • Week #2 (3 x bodyweight x max reps)
  • Week #3 (3 x added weight x 6-8 reps)

Phase 3

Workout A

A1. Progressive Range Snatch
This will be a new series for most. Simply do hang snatches in a series with the start of each rep being lower then the last. This will get you used to pulling from different areas and is also challenging.( rep 1 from hip, rep 2 from mid thigh, rep 3 from knee, rep 4 from mid shin, rep 5 from floor) Use 3 minute rest intervals.

  • Week #1: 4x5
  • Week #2: 3x5
  • Week #3: 4x4

B1. Speed Deadlifts With Shrug
Start off with 60% of your 1rm deadlift and starting off with a controlled pull to just under knee level attempt to explode up as quickly as possible. 1-minute rest intervals.

  • Week #1: 8x3 at 60%
  • Week #2: 8x3 at 65%
  • Week #3: 8x3 at 70%

C1. Manual Glute Ham Raise
If you don't have access to a glute ham bench simply find something to place your feet under and take a towel or pad to place your knees on. Use your hands to assist you up.

  • Week #1 (3 x 20 assisted- lower smoothyly yet under control and use your arms to push yourself back up.)
  • Week #2 (3 x 10 using 6 second negatives)
  • Week #3 (3 x max reps with no assistance other then a slight push to break your sticking points)

Workout B

A1. Progressive Range Clean
(As you did during the first workout in this phase with the snatch. With each rep let the bar drop down a little further. Rep#1 hip, #2 mid-thigh, #3 knee, #4 mid-shin, #5 floor). Use 3 minute rest intervals.

  • Week #1: 4x5
  • Week #2: 3x5
  • Week #3: 4x4

B1. Explosive Back Full Squat
8x3 with 1-minute rest intervals. Vary stance every 2 sets from shoulder width to wide Tempo (3-0-X)

  • Week #1: 60% of back squat
  • Week #2: 65%
  • Week #3: 70%

C1. Back Step-Up or Peterson Step-Up
Find a low bench or block that you can stand on with one leg. Without moving that leg slowly descend down until the other foot hits the floor and then use a controlled motion to come back up. Use a 3-0-2 tempo.

  • Week #1 (3 x 1 minute each set little to no added weight. Go by time not reps)
  • Week #2 (3 x 1 minute each set with added resistance such as light dumbells)
  • Week #3 (3 x 30 seconds each set with added weight)

Phase 4

Workout A

A1. Power Snatch With Straps
This time you will do both hang snatches and snatches from the floor in each set. Use straps for this exercise.

  • Week #1: (5x2+2) 2 from hang 2 from floor
  • Week #2 (5x1+1) 1 from hang 1 from floor
  • Week #3 (5x1+1) 1 from hang 1 from ground

B1. Heavy Arched Back Good Mornings
This is a partial range movement. With the bar in a low bar squat position and a stance slightly wider than shoulder width simply move your hips back while keeping a tightly arched back and your head up. You will feel a slight stretch in the hamstrings and glutes. As soon as you feel that you are about to lose the arch in your lower back return back up by driving your feet down and back. Use 3 minute rest intervals. (3-0-2 tempo)

  • Week #1 (6,4,6,4,6)
  • Week #2 ( 5,3,5,3,5)
  • Week #3 (6,4,2,5,3,2)

C1. Low Cable Pull-Throughs
Stand in front of a low pulley station and face the opposite direction. Reach through your legs and grab the low pulley with both hands and taking a wide stance concentrate on flexing your hamstrings and glutes to straighten yourself up. Use 1 minute rest intervals.

  • 3 x 15-20

Workout B

A1. Mid-grip Clean
As done on the snatch, this time do the same with the clean. 3-minute rest intervals.

  • Week #1: 5x2+2
  • Week #2: 5x1+1
  • Week #3: 5x1+1

B1. Paused Front Squats
A regular front squat with a 2-second pause at the bottom of each rep. Try to get in a habit of doing these holding the bar in your hands. (3-2-x tempo).

  • Week #1 (6,4,6,4,6)
  • Week #2 (5,3,5,3,5)
  • Week #3 (6,4,2,5,3,1)

3 minute rest intervals

C1. Barbell Side Step-Up
Like a regular step-up but done with the box directly to your side. Complete all the reps for one leg before moving to the other leg. Use 1.5-2 minute rest intervals.

  • 3 x 8-10

Phase 5

Workout A

A1. Depth Jumps
Set height of box approximately 20% less than best vertical jump. Step off hit the ground with both feet and jump immediately back up onto the box. If too easy add light weight (10-20 lbs). Performing this exercise prior to your lifting will really potentiate your nervous system and likely allow you to lift heavier than usual. Use 2-3 minute rest intervals.

  • Week #1: 3 x 10
  • Week #2: 3 x 15
  • Week #3: 3 x 20

B1. Power Snatch
3 minute rest intervals.

  • 4 x 4 (2 sets from floor 2 from hang)
  • 4 x 5 (2 sets from floor 2 from hang)
  • 4 x 4 (2 sets from floor 2 from hang)

C1. ¼ Deadlifts From Rack
Use blocks or a power rack and set the bar just below knee level. 5 x 7,5,3,5,3 with 3 minute rest intervals. (3-0-x tempo).

D1. Leg Curls
Using a lying leg curl machine do drop sets with the first set about an 8rm weight. Rest 10 seconds and drop the weight doing 6 reps. Rest 10 more seconds and try to knock out 4 more reps. (Drop sets) (3-0-x tempo).

  • 2 x 8,6,4

Workout B

A1. 1/4 Jump Squats
Aim for maximum height and explosiveness. Use 2 minute rest intervals.

  • Week #1: 3 x 10 with 35% of best back squat (perform rhymically and explosively, no pause)
  • Week #2: 3 x 15 with 30% of best back squat
  • Week #3: 3 x 20 with 25% of best back squat

B1. Power Clean
Add weight each set, Use 3 minute rest intervals.

  • Week #1: 4 x 4 (2 sets from floor, 2 sets from hang)
  • Week #2: 4 x 5 (2 sets from floor, 2 from hang)
  • Week #3 4 x 4 (2 sets from floor, 2 from hang)

C1. ¼ Back Squat
(Supramaximal) 3-0-x tempo with a 3-minute rest interval.

  • 5 x 7,5,3,5,3

D1. Dumbbell Squats
2 x 8 (each leg), elevate the rear leg on a bench and grab a pair of dumbbells doing split squat lunges. Use a 3-0-1 tempo with 2 minute rest intervals.

After Completing The Program

After completion of the program take a few days off and try to test your 1rms in the power clean, snatch, and vertical jump. You will be pleasantly surprised! Likely you will find your vertical jump increases substantially, even without any specific training for it. This is surefire evidence that your whole body power has increased substantially as well as the vertical jump is an excellent test to measure this.

When going back to a normal hypertrophy based program you will likely find that you immediately make muscle gains due to your newfound muscle recruitment capabilities. After training in this fashion you may also become pleasantly addicted to the snatch and clean and make them a permanent part of your program from here on out.