Easy Conditioning Options for Olympic Weightlifters

For the most part, weightlifting is a strength and power sport which requires short high intensity efforts followed by periods of long rest. Many athletes and coaches will use this as an excuse to not program any longer duration aerobic conditioning into their programs. However, this can be a mistake and actually impede progress. The aerobic system acts as a buffer for fatigue and helps athletes recover quicker between high intensity bouts. Many of the metabolic byproducts that heavy training produces depend on the efficiency of local and systemic circulation to be cleared fast enough to allow for subsequent efforts; Essentially the more efficient the underlying aerobic system, the more intensity and volume an athlete can handle in one session. This goes back to improving the athlete’s foundation or general preparation to support more specific adaptations.

What kind of aerobic work should I use for my athlete?

Some coaches like to utilize some pretty high level jumps, sprints, or change of direction drills to supplement their athlete’s weightlifting training. While this type of training is well intentioned and can offer some benefits, most of this work has very little transfer to Olympic weightlifting since they require the athlete to move their own bodyweight explosively versus in weightlifting where the athlete has to move a heavy object quickly. Running, sprinting, and jumping to a high enough level to have a significant effect on the athlete’s neuromuscular qualities requires development and time dedicated to a completely different skill set than Olympic Weightlifting. Not to mention that unless the athlete has been performing these types of exercises regularly the novelty of this type of training can cause detrimental soreness that can limit their next weightlifting session. Here are some good alternatives to consider for your athlete’s conditioning before borrowing training from other sporting disciplines:

1) Clusters - You perform a submaximal lift as explosively or as powerfully as possible for 2-3 reps, rest for up to 45 sec, and then perform another set of 2-3 reps. I would recommend doing somewhere between 12-20 total reps for one training session. The limited rest periods place a larger demand on the athlete’s cardiorespiratory system and the lower repetitions at submaximal weights limits the effects of fatigue from decreasing power output. The combination helps increase the average power in a particular session and can help condition the athlete’s ability to recover between high intensity efforts. This is a good tool for intermediate athletes who generally have good technique but tend to either lose power within a session or can’t recover fast enough between high intensity bouts to build enough volume in their training to present a large stimulus.

2) Javorek Complex - This complex is a series of barbell movements done with either an empty barbell or up to 40% of the athlete’s body weight. The complex goes something like this:

6 reps of each exercise

Upright row

High pull

Back/front squat

Squat to press

Bent over row

Romanian Deadlift or Good morning

*repeat for 3-4 sets with 60-90 sec of rest between sets.

The original complex was presented by Coach Javorek, an Olympic Weightlifting coach from USSR Romania that wanted to use Olympic Weightlifting concepts as conditioning tools in other sports training. This is a great tool to use for a lot of beginners that need to build some local endurance in the muscles that they would need for Olympic weightlifting. The exercises done back-to-back and the light weights used makes it an effective aerobic circuit that is Olympic weightlifting specific.

These are just two examples of some more specific conditioning tools that the coach can use to get their athlete’s in better shape. Programming conditioning for weightlifters essentially comes down to whether you’re implementing these protocols for recovery or as part of the athlete’s supplementary training. For recovery purposes make sure that the training is lower intensity and of a different nature to allow the athlete to actually recover enough for their upcoming heavier session. For a specific training purpose, you can use slightly higher intensity to provide a stimulus. Try to stay away from some of the more advanced track and field drills that require a lot of time and special skill development for not that much return. Hopefully this provided some good examples to base your conditioning protocols on for future weightlifting training.

Jason Li, Exercise Science BS, USAW LVL2, Catalyst Athletics LVL1, NSCA-CPT