5 assistance exercises for Olympic weightlifting
In the past I’ve written about assistance exercises for powerlifting. In today’s article we’ll have a look at some of the most common ones I prescribe for Olympic weightlifters. I’ve decided to not include the squats, variations of the main lifts, or even pulls or deadlifts. I think most Olympic lifters are already familiar with them and probably utilize them as well.
Hanging leg raise
Just as in the article about assistance exercises for powerlifting, I consider this a great abdominal exercise if done right. Done right in this case is to think more in terms of a jack knife than a leg raise. You want to make sure you pull your upper body forward in order to meet the legs. That obviously won’t happen but the intention is key to properly activate the abdominals.
However, it’s not so much the abdominal strength I’m after with this one but rather relieving the lower back after heavy snatches, cleans, and squats. The ever young Yoto Yotov told me he incorporated this lift a lot when I asked him how he managed to have such a long career.
Named after Viktor Sots who reportedly did these presses from the bottom of a full front squat… With 190 kg. Let that sink in. Most people who try it won’t even have the mobility to push the bar from there. I actually prefer the snatch variation, which Dimitry Klokov also call the Sots press but I usually call the Klokov press.
Call it what you want but the concept is the same: from a full squat with the bar on your back and a snatch grip, press the bar overhead without any form of bouncing. If you “bounce” with your legs it will effectively turn it into a push press and thus make it much easier which is not what we want. It will build shoulders, upper back and, perhaps more importantly, position. For the Sots version, sit in a front squat and press the bar from there.
This exercise is named after Nicu Vlad who’s the heaviest person to ever snatch double bodyweight. He reportedly did Romanian deadlifts with the same weight he squatted. So if you’re squatting 200 kg but using 50 kg for Romanians you’d better step up your game. The lift starts from the top position of a deadlift (clean grip). With slightly bent knees, push the butt backwards and let the upper body bend froward while keeping your back flat. It’s not actually a deadlift since there’s no “dead” part (referring to the dead stop at the ground) which makes the naming a bit odd. It will help build the much neglected hamstrings in today’s Olympic lifters.
An especially cruel variation is the Snatch grip version. It’s performed the same but with a snatch grip. Be sure to keep the bar touching the body the entire time and feel how your upper back will struggle to keep it there. It’s especially useful if the lifter is unable to keep a tight upper back when lifting.
Another favorite of Yoto Yotov. I also relied a lot on this exercise when training Olympic lifting despite being on a Bulgarian-style program most of the time. It really helps building some upper body strength while at the same time being a bit less rough on the body than the clean & jerk.
I suppose most of you know how to do a push press but in case you’re new here’s the Reader’s Digest version. From a front rack, dip your legs into a short squat, similar to a jerk, in order to drive up the bar. Start pushing on the bar with your arms after it leaves the chest. Pushing too early makes it way less efficient, so make sure you get the most out of your legs. If you have trouble getting the timing right you can try to do with chest bumps like described in the jerk variations article.
In the words of Dimitry Klokov: “For weightlifting I don’t know which is better, this or deadlift”. Personally I’d pick the deadlift but the point is well made – the back raise, or hyper extension as some people call it, is a tremendous execise for the posterior chain. The benefit compared to deadlifts is that it takes a lot less out of you. The downside compared to the same is that it doesn’t allow you train the position.
To perform this exercise you lie on your stomach on a bench or a special apparatus, bend forward and then come back up. Don’t hold a plate to the chest as you might’ve seen many people do. Instead hold a bar on your back (like you would in a squat). It’s significatly harder but will train your posture much better. Slumped forward shoulders is not something we want in either weightlifting or in everyday life.
When taking squats into account, very little extra is needed for Olympic weightlifting compared to powerlifting, and any other exercises can be seen as “icing on the cake”. The reason for this is that the shoulders and upper back gets plenty of work from the competiiton lifts and its variations. Depending on the type of training program you’re on you might rely more on additional exercises (think Chinese or Soviet weightlifters) or barely any at all (think Bulgarian weightlifters). Both ways have produced world record holders.