Articles  >  Weightlifting Program Design
Strength Lifts and Classic Lifts for Weightlifting
Greg Everett
May 7 2011

This discussion will not die, so I will poke at it a bit more. US weightlifters need to get stronger. This is the refrain repeated endlessly from many outside the weightlifting community. From inside the community, the response is essentially a unanimous agreement in principle - of course in a strength sport athletes need to get stronger. Where the argument really exists is with regard to what exactly that means and how to achieve it.

First, weightlifters compete in the snatch and clean & jerk. That's it. Nothing else matters at all. While it may be interesting to know a certain lifter has a huge squat or has done some other weird feat of strength outside of this, it won't change his competitive results - he either snatches and clean & jerks more or less than the next guy.

What individuals with little steeping in weightlifting seem to be unable to understand is how specific the needs of weightlifters really are. It's exceptional in its specificity with regard to strength, especially from the perspective of someone who works on building strength in a very general sense for non-strength athletes. If you work only with football players, it probably seems like more strength in any form = better potential performance, and this is largely true because football players don't have a perfectly specific manner of expressing strength in the sport. This is not the case in weightlifting.

A great example that I've seen come up numerous times is the idea that getting stronger in the press will improve the jerk. To be fair, a lifter must have adequate upper body strength to support larger and larger weights overhead, but supporting a weight is much different than putting it there. Most female weightlifters are great examples of this - the typical gal is not at all good with pressing strength, yet will be able to jerk huge amounts of weight (I coach a 59kg woman who can jerk 116kg and jerk recovery 165kg, but who couldn't press a pillow case full of cotton balls). It's normal for female lifters to have much larger jerk:press ratios than men. What this comes down to is simple: a conviction that striving for better press numbers as a primary goal in order to improve the jerk demonstrates a lack of understanding of the jerk. Of all the possible jerk accessory exercises available, the press is possibly the least helpful (again, this doesn't mean the press isn't a valuable exercise).

The last thing I'll mention is the notion that ever-increasing numbers in basic lifts like the deadlift will necessarily drive improvements in the snatch and clean. Certainly there is a relationship between these lifts, but it's not that straightforward. Generally speaking, a lifter with a bigger deadlift will out clean and snatch a lifter with a smaller deadlift - but only when we're talking about large differences. Moreover, weightlifters who never actually deadlift in training are often capable of huge deadlifts - so which is driving which?

Some argue that beyond the beginner level, the snatch and clean & jerk can't drive increases in strength. This is utter nonsense that can only be genuinely believed by someone who has never actually snatched and clean & jerked heavy weights. A powerlifter with a 600+ lb deadlift who snatches 180 lbs will feel that snatches are extremely light and will not understand how snatching could possibly make one stronger. In this case, he is right - he's snatching 30% or so of his best deadlift. But seasoned lifters are better at putting their available strength to use in the lifts, and as a consequence, their classic lifts are much greater percentages of their top strength numbers. For example, a lifter may snatch more like 60%+ of his best deadlift - a much different prospect than 30%.

This is not to say that doing the snatch and clean & jerk exclusively is the best method of improving strength for weightlifting. The point is that discounting the ability of the classic lifts to build weightlifting-specific strength is a product of having no understanding of weightlifting.

Do lifters need to push their squats? Of course - I don't know any who don't. This is constantly returned to by folks as well - if lifters would just train the squat harder, they would get stronger, and their lifts would go up. The funny part is that I don't know any lifters who don't push their squats. This is some weird notion that has gained traction outside the weightlifting community. My assumption is that those claiming this is what's going on, and claiming to have interaction with lifters who report this is happening, are actually talking to brand new lifters (or individuals who go to train with good lifting coaches a few times). In these cases, these coaches are likely spending  most if not all the time with these individuals working on the snatch and clean & jerk, and likely with light weights much of the time, because these individuals need to learn how to snatch and clean & jerk before they can do much else. To see this as reflective of that coach's actual training programs is absurd.

Most of you reading this would have to change your underwear if you saw the squatting my better lifters do - usually 4-6 days/week, sometimes twice daily, and not necessarily with low volume. The  idea that weightlifters in the US just fiddlefart around with baby weights and technique work their whole careers is absolutely ridiculous.

To be clear one last time, I'm in no way suggesting that strength isn't important for weightlifting, or that continuing to improve strength isn't necessary for long term improvement in the snatch and clean & jerk - of course it is. My point is that a weightlifter needs to develop very specific strength - in the positions and motions necessary for the snatch and clean & jerk, and over-emphasizing very basic strength motions like the deadlift are isn't the best way to do it.
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May 8 2011
Funny how nobody ever calls throwers weak because the implements they throw are just so light, at the same time calling weightlifters weak because the weight they snatch is "so little",
Andrew Wilson
May 9 2011
May 23 2011
interesting that the post urging for better quality has a mis-spelling...
May 26 2011
Not sure where the idea that US lifters "fiddle fart with light weights" and don't squat came from. Don't see how this answers the simple truth that US lifters are weaker than their international peers and need to get stronger, either.
Greg Everett
May 26 2011
Greg -

Spend some time reading articles on non-weightlifting sites, and it shouldn't take you long to find where the claims of fiddlefarting are coming from. They're not hidden. You can try Elite FTS and Starting Strength for easy ones.

Regarding our lifters' relative weakness, this article claims that whatever the reason, it is not the training US lifters are doing - they're not just playing with PVC pipes and doing technique drills; they are squatting hard; they are doing strength lifts. At some place in the US, lifters are doing everything their competition is doing in training, and at other places, they're doing everything the folks you presumably share opinions on the subject with suggest they do. Yet still we're not as strong. This means that the problem must not be the training itself, at least not entirely.

For more details on what I believe the problems to be, you can see the other article on this topic here -

I would genuinely like to hear what your thoughts on the subject are and what your answer to the weakness problem would be were you in a position to train US weightlifters. I'm always open to ideas.
May 26 2011

I don't have an answer. I am honest enough to recognize I have neither the experience nor the knowledge to figure a solution to the problem.
It seems obvious (to me at least) that the general popularity level impacts the population size that our coaches have to work with, making the job harder.
Having followed the conversation on Rip's site, I don't think the educated (there are plenty of uneducated comments to sift through) opinions are that our lifters fart around. I don't follow EFS.
July 11 2011
US lifters are weak. period.
Anders from sweden
July 16 2011
How big are weightlifting in the US and how big is it in China? In the US many other sports are popular and maybe the best athletes can be found there. In Sweden we had no one in track and field but then Carolina Kluft came around and won he world championships several years in a row. This made other athletes like Stefan Holm (high jump) and Christian Olsson (triple jump) belive that is was possible to win and they trained harder as well. This is one important factor. Success follows success!
Greg Everett
September 19 2011
Matthew -

Thanks for sharing your insights with us. I think we have the tools now to correct the problem.
September 23 2011
In no way are American lifters weak, let me first say that. If anything you guys are probably one of the stronger lifters around.

Much of American lifters seem to follow a very snatch/CNJ/squat routine. Without doubt, I agree that the Olympic lifts themselves are absolutely essential to execute, since it's a skill. Just like getting stronger. It's a skill, and practicing it helps.

What I often wonder is, why do many American coaches NOT want to execute regular pulls and improve technique? I see too many American lifters with a lot of variability in their technique.

They're brutally strong but when it comes to execution, they just can't use their strength and power because of the often inaccurate back angling when approaching limit weights.

I shall bookmark this understand further on why American coaches dislike pulling.
Greg Everett
September 24 2011
Kirksman - I'm curious on what lifters your idea that "Much of American lifters seem to follow a very snatch/CNJ/squat routine."? I would argue that more American lifters and coaches use programming that incorporates a lot of pulling and other strength work in addition to the classic lifts and squatting... Thrush, Pierce, Takano, Burgener, Smalcerz, Morris, Fleschler, et al all train their lifters in ways that in no way could be described as you suggest. The only coaches that come to mind at the moment who could be said to not use pulls (at least not regularly) are Pendlay and Broz. Their internet infamy of late may make it seem like what they're doing is what everyone is doing, but I can assure you that's not the case.Regarding technique, I agree that American lifters have much less consistent technique than their European and Asian counterparts. However, I would attribute that more to the fact that most US lifters enter the sport at later ages than others and don't have the same foundation of training that other lifters do.
September 24 2011
I see. My mistake for assuming much of the US do not use pulls.

Another question I have is the triple extension. Do American coaches actually coach the weightlifting movements as triple extension or is that merely another myth?

All my coaches, Russian, Bulgarian and Chinese all teach the cue as either hip pop or quad pop. The difference was when some lifters had the cue as hip pop, we tended To go forward so we learned quad pop instead. As our techniques improved we moved into thinking "pop hips up".

That's why when I first heard "triple extension" jump thing VS catapult, I actually had no idea what that argument was based on. I really
Believe American lifters can benefit from deadlifts to the hip crease, pause and repeat. It helped my technique tremendously.

Would you like to visit my site at and see what u think of the articles I have?
Greg Everett
September 26 2011
Kirksman - I think the coaches in the US who teach "triple extension" as you describe it, i.e. intentional plantar flexion and an attempt to shrug the bar up, are few - I think most of this is being done by strength and conditioning coaches outside the weightlifting world. I've addressed this a number of times in articles and in my book - personally I think angle extension should be left to occur naturally, which it will to varying degrees among lifters, and the shrug should be part of the arm's movement of pulling the body down under the bar. Not everyone agrees. The quad pop and hip pop is interesting - I like the fact that coaches are flexible and do what works for each athlete rather than being so dogmatic about things. I think that the anti-triple-extension folks have swung the pendulum too far the other direction and are trying to remove the legs from the movement, which makes no sense to me - this results in what you describe as popping the hips forward and then having to chase the bar (as well as reduced bar height and airtime). I use deadlifts to the hips (halting deadlifts) a lot with my lifters and have also found them very helpful. You have a good collection of articles.
March 7 2012
1 round 55# snatch/ 90 first 5 clean and jerks, 5-85# clean and jerks and 75# clean and jerks had to keep snicalg down due to should injury .couldn't continue too much pain.
August 4 2014
So let me get this right, in China we know that the weightlifters do specific bodybuilding work besides the snatch and clean and jerk. We also have various accounts of lifters from the eastern block doing generalized strength work aside from the cleaning jerk and snatch.

Yet we do not want to do more generalized strength work in a strength sport?

Look at the people winning world championships at those competitions. Compare their physique to the lifters that just one at nationals here in America. They did not get that physique from simply doing clean & jerks, snatches, and squats.

Greg Everett
November 20 2014
Andrew -
Did you read the article? "This is not to say that doing the snatch and clean & jerk exclusively is the best method of improving strength for weightlifting. The point is that discounting the ability of the classic lifts to build weightlifting-specific strength is a product of having no understanding of weightlifting."
March 6 2015
Great read. If you were starting with a young athlete (early teens) how would you go about splitting up pure strength work vs technique work on the classic lifts?
September 29 2020
I come here to get stronger