Olympic lifting for hypertrophy and power

Update: After experimentation and a lot of reflection I’ve come to the conclusion that Olympic lifting does NOT lend itself to hypertrophy, nor does it develop power outside of the gym. There’s very little time under tension, and although there’s a lot of volume you can get the same hypertrophy gains by doing high volume front squats. But, if you enjoy doing the Olympic lifts, then you just continue doing them.

If there’s one I’ve noticed in my YouTube travels around the many channels devoted to Olympic lifting, it’s that Olympic lifters look awesome, with thick, dense muscles. It’s a classic comparison between weightlifting and bodybuilding, that the former stimulates myofibrilar hypertrophy, and the latter focuses on sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. The snatch and the clean and jerk work the musculature of the back and legs enormously, and Olympic lifters basically do deadlift-like movements all day every day for months at a time. It’s no wonder that they develop fantastic-looking bodies.

I’m looking for a training program to help average men and women get great-looking bodies, with big, thick muscles alongside considerable power gains for transferability into sport and everyday life. In my eBook The Strong Everyman Workout I detail the power clean as one of the best fat-burning exercises around. But I want to make a routine that revolves around the full clean and possibly the jerk – an Olympic hypertrophy program.

The differences between the full clean and the power clean are subtle. The full clean can be used to lift a lot more weight, and through a longer range of motion than the relatively short power clean, where you catch the weight with a wide stance, with the hips above parallel. The fuller range of motion into a deep front squat is good for flexibility in the hips.

Olympic weightlifters also use a large amount of volume – lifters commonly use set-rep ranges like 6×3 with near-maximum weights in the full clean and jerk, so if we were to develop an Olympic hypertrophy program we would need to emulate this. Higher volume also means more calorie burn, and the inherent high intensity of the full clean, meaning our program would also be great for a healthy heart and strong cardiovascular system, not to mention a lean body.

We should also include other lifts into the routine for diversity and roundness. I would include the back squat, the weighted overhand pull-up, and the bench press, to help build the whole musculature and develop all-round strength, not to mention maintenance of joint integrity.

To help build more muscle mass, a high caloric intake would be vital for our Olympic hypertrophy program. For men, I think at least 6,000 calories is necessary on workout days, and at least 3,000 for women. Training frequency should be relatively high too, three days a week is a good guide. For those who want to really advance with regards to strength and mass gains, periodisation and manipulation of training variables is necessary. This means altering training frequency week by week to put excess stress on the body for a short period of time. For example, you could train three times a week for a couple of months, and then workout six times a week for two weeks straight. After the two weeks of pain finish, take three days off, and train only once or twice the next week. After that, return to training three times a week. You’ll have enhanced muscle hypertrophy and strength gains.

To sum up our theoretical Olympic hypertrophy program:

  • Do the full clean and possibly the jerk for high volume three times a week
  • Also do lifts such as the back squat, pull-up, and bench press
  • Consume at least 6,000 calories each training day, 3,000 for women
  • Periodise training to break strength plateaus and enhance muscle hypertrophy

I look forward to working more on this, and coming up with a concrete program. :)

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